Third edition of Artificial Intelligence: foundations of computational agents, Cambridge University Press, 2023 is now available (including the full text).

### 5.4.2 Assumables and Conflicts

Reasoning from contradictions is a very useful tool. For many activities it is useful to know that some combination of assumptions is incompatible. For example, it is useful in planning to know that some combination of actions an agent is trying to do is impossible. It is useful in design to know that some combination of components cannot work together.

In a diagnostic application it is useful to be able to prove that some components working normally is inconsistent with the observations of the system. Consider a system that has a description of how it is supposed to work and some observations. If the system does not work according to its specification, a diagnostic agent must identify which components could be faulty.

To carry out these tasks it is useful to be able to make assumptions that can be proved to be false.

An **assumable** is an
atom that can be assumed in a proof by contradiction. A proof by
contradiction derives a disjunction of the negation of the assumables.

With a Horn clause knowledge base and explicit assumabes, if the system can prove a contradiction from some assumptions, it can extract combinations of assumptions that cannot all be true.

In a definite-clause knowledge base, a query
is used to ask if a proposition is a
consequence of the knowledge base. Given a query, the system tries to
construct a proof for the query. With a proof by contradiction, the system tries to prove
*false*. The user must specify what is allowable as part of an
answer.

If *KB* is a set of Horn clauses, a **conflict** of *KB* is a set of
assumables that, given *KB*, implies *false*.
That is, *C={c _{1},...,c_{r}}* is a conflict of

*KB*if

KB∪{c_{1},...,c_{r}} false.

In this case, an **answer** is

KB ¬c_{1}∨ ...∨ ¬c_{r}.

A **minimal conflict** is a conflict such that no strict
subset is also a conflict.

**Example 5.19:**In Example 5.17, if

*{c,d,e,f,g,h}*is the set of assumables, then

*{c,d}*and

*{c,e}*are minimal conflicts of

*KB*;

_{2}*{c,d,e,h}*is also a conflict, but not a minimal conflict.

In the examples that follow, the assumables are specified using the **assumable** keyword followed by one or more assumable atoms separated by commas.