Action as a Local Surgery

Judea Pearl

What gives us the audacity to expect that actions should have neat and compact representations? Why did the authors of STRIPS and BURIDAN believe they could get away with such short specification for actions? Whether we take the probabilistic paradigm that actions are transformations from probability distributions to probability distributions, or the deterministic paradigm that actions are transformations from states to states, such transformations could in principle be infinitely complex. Yet, in practice, people teach each other rather quickly what actions normally do to the world, people predict the consequences of any given action without much hustle, and AI researchers are writing languages for actions as if it is a God given truth that action representation should be compact, elegant and meaningful. Why? The paradigm I wish to explore in this paper is that these expectations are not only justified but, mainly, that once we understand the justification, we will be in better shape to craft effective representations for actions.

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