Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence

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Why Business Rules Will Always Remain in Structured Natural Language

I was reading a fascinating article in The Economist about how robots, including military drones and driverless automobiles, increasingly need ethical guidance[1]. What does that have to do with business rules, you ask? Read on … In the next five years, software systems will begin to appear that bypass programming going more or less straight from regulations, contracts, agreements, deals, certifications, warranties, etc. (written in English or other natural language) to executing code. Think about the economics of the equation! If for no other reason (and there are many others), you’ll quickly see the why a snowballing migration to such platforms is inevitable. And these tools will do the same for business rules based on business policies. I said more or ‘more or less’ above because the tool will have to make certain assumptions about the meaning of what it ‘reads’. For example, if I say, “a person must not be married to more than one other person” most of us would probably assume that means “at a given point in time”. But automated tools could easily be held responsible for making the wrong interpretation. It should therefore err on the safe side, and at the very least, log all its reasoning. That’s where the article comes in. Concerning robots that make liability-laden decisions, it contends that principles are needed …

“… to determine whether the designer, the programmer, the manufacturer or the operator is at fault if an autonomous drone strike goes wrong or a driverless car had an accident. In order to allocate responsibility, autonomous systems must keep detailed logs so that they can explain the reasoning behind their decisions when necessary.” [emphasis added]

That explanation better be in a form that humans (and lawyers too) can actually read. That means structured natural language. The article went on to make the following astute observation …

“This has implications for system design: it may, for example, rule out the use of artificial neural networks … decision-making systems that learn from example rather than obeying predefined rules.”

Right! Where there is social liability, there will always be natural language. P.S. To vendors: If your meaning of ‘business rule’ doesn’t compel you toward this debate, then you’re simply not really doing ‘business rules’(!).


[1] “Morals and the Machine”, The Economist, June 2, 2012, p. 15

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Ronald G. Ross

Ronald G. Ross

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.