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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Learning and reasoning by analogy

We use analogy when we say something is a Cinderella story and when we learn about resistors by thinking about water pipes. We also use analogy when we learn subjects like economics, medicine, and law. This paper presents a theory of analogy and describes an implemented system that embodies the theory. The specific competence to be understood is that of using analogies to do certain kinds of learning and reasoning. Learning takes place when analogy is used to generate a constraint description in one domain, given a constraint description in another, as when we learn Ohm's law by way of knowledge about water pipes. Reasoning takes place when analogy is used to answer questions about one situation, given another situation that is supposed to be a precedent, as when we answer questions about Hamlet by way of knowledge about Macbeth.

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