Production Systems

A production system is a tool used in artificial intelligence and especially within the applied AI domain known as expert systems. Production systems consist of a database of rules, a working memory, a matcher, and a procedure that resolves conflicts between rules. These components are outlined below. Several different versions of productions systems have been developed, including the OPs series which culminated in OPS5 (see Forgy). OPS5 was modified to implement the Soar production system described elsewhere in this document.


The rules of a production consist of a condition and action in the form: (if x then y). The left-hand-side conditions (x and y may be arbitrarily complex conjunctions of expressions) are compared against the elements of working memory to determine if the conditions are satisfied. Matching is an computationally intense procedure although the RETE algorithm of OPS5 is significantly more efficient than a simple condition-by-condition matcher.

Conflict Resolution

At any point in processing, several productions may match to the elements of working memory simultaneously. Since production systems are normally implemented on serial computers, this results in a conflict: there is a non-unique choice about which action to take next. Most conflict resolution schemes are very simple, dependent on the number of conditions in the production, the time stamps (ages) of the elements to which the conditions matched, or completely random. One of the advantages of production systems is that the computational complexity of the matcher, while large, is deterministically finite and the conflict resolution scheme is trivial. This is in contrast to logicist systems in which declarative knowledge may be accessed instantly but the time required to use the knowledge (in a theorem prover, for instance) can not be pre-determined.


The actions of productions are manipulations to working memory. Elements may be added, deleted and modified. Since elements may be added and deleted, the production system is non-monotonic: the addition of new knowledge may obviate previous knowledge. Non-monotonicity increases the significance of the conflict resolution scheme since productions which match in one cycle may not match in the following because of the action of the intervening production. Some production systems are monotonic, however, and only add elements to working memory, never deleting or modifying knowledge through the action of production rules. Such systems may be regarded as implicitly parallel since all rules that match will be fired regardless of which is fired first.

Architectures using explicit productions include:

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