Creating SOPs Using a Wiki
The aim of this article is to describe an idea related to the VCE idea and how it can be supported by AI planning technology (which is AIAI's area of expertise).
Many communities have a need for Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). An SOP can be seen as a generic plan. For example, in the area of personnel recovery there are manuals describing procedures in detail. Similarly, emergency responders will have plans for emergencies that are likely to occur in their areas.
The development of such SOPs or emergency plans is usually a community effort, based on the expertise of more than one person and evolving over time as these procedures are tested in real life and new knowledge and technology become available.
Developing Shared Knowledge using a Wiki
One way of developing and sharing knowledge is a Wiki. This could also be used to maintain a set of SOPs for a given community in an open and shared environment. There are a number of advantages to this approach ...
Informal vs. Formal Representations
The format in which SOPs are developed is usually free text. The advantage of this approach is its flexibility: anything can be expressed. Some tool support can also be provided, e.g. through the search engine that comes with a Wiki. However, AI planning tools (such as I-X and I-Plan) require a more formal representation that follows a specific syntax.
A compromise to the above formal vs. informal representation problem would be to allow for semantic annotations to the free text descriptions of the SOPs, or vice versa, where the free text could be seen as annotations to the formal description (displayed as supporting information in a planning tool).
A similar approach is adopted in an extension to Mediawiki called Semantic Mediawiki. This allows users to add formal knowledge to a page that can be processed by a reasoning engine. The search facilities provided with the Semantic Mediawiki extension are such a reasoning engine.
The problem with the Semantic Mediawiki extension is that it treats pages as instances in an ontology, allowing for relations to other objects (pages) and typed parameter values to be specified. This is similar to the concepts underlying RDF and thus, the expressiveness is similar. In fact, RDF is one of the formats that can be exported to.
The problem is that it is very difficult to describe procedural knowledge in such a formalism. This problem was addressed in OWL-S and the result is not very convincing.
Alternative representations come from the world of AI planning. Classical planning representations (such as basic STRIPS) are unlikely to be powerful enough to be useful. General representations developed for real-world planning include CPR and SPAR.
See also the SOP extension currently under development for MediaWiki for a simple mechanism to add formal structure to SOPs. A more sophisticated extension that requires a knowledge engineer (with experience in HTN planning) is the INCA Extension for Mediawiki.
Exporting Wiki Articles to I-X
The basic idea here is to create a semantic wiki for SOPs, allowing experts to write SOPs in some semi-formal framework. Each wiki article would correspond to a simple procedure that breaks a higher-level activity down into simpler steps. This is essentially what is known in AI planning as a refinement or method. If the article has the right semantic annotation it should be possible to export the SOP in a form that can then be read into a planning tool such as I-X, where can be used to support users in the application of the SOP.
Wouldn't that be great?