ewcbr'96 photo report

I have recently returned from the excellent European Case-Based Reasoning Workshop held in Lausanne Switzerland and I told everyone at the workshop I would write a description of the Workshop and include photos I took of the workshop with my digital camera. This interesting steel sculpture was on the lake shore near the hotel. As you can tell from the steel gray sky the weather was not great. But we were all far too busy in the Workshop to take in the sights anyway.

The Workshop hotel was on the lake shore and was extremely comfortable with several excellent restaurants. The beer in the bar was a little more expensive than most of us were used to :-( but this was Switzerland after all. The rooms were also great - so you can see we all had a very comfortable time.

The Movenpick Raddison Hotel




The first day of the Workshop was devoted to industrial applications of CBR. The session was opened by Philip Klahr the Vice President of Inference Corporation. He was able to update us on the successful uptake of Inference's CBR help desk software. In particular Philip concentrated on global case authoring issues: how a multi-national company that provides customer support for its products in several countries supports and manages the authoring and distribution of its case-bases. For companies like Hewlett-Packard or Gateway 2000 this is a non-trivial problem.

Philip Klahr and Lawrence Poynter of Inference

Jean-Louis Bouchet presented a report on a system used by the French Atomic Energy Authority for retrieving problems encountered with nuclear reactors. We were a little alarmed to hear they have a database of over 120,000 logged problems. The system described used a combination of a lexical approach with a semantic network and case-based retrieval.


No CBR workshop or conference would be complete without Michel Manago of Acknosoft. He bravely stood in for an absent colleague and gave an interesting talk on how Sepro Robotique are using CBR to support fault diagnosis in complex robotic machinery.

Michel also sponsored the Workshop's reception on the first evening and considering the price of drinks in Switzerland this was very much appreciated.

Michel Manago demonstrating KATE during the software demonstrations

James Barr then asked us, the Workshop, to consider the more strategic role that CBR could play in corporate knowledge management and gave us a view of British Airways' perspective on these issues.

This theme was revisited by Betsy Cordingly of British Telecom who presented various successful and unsuccessful CBR initiatives that BT had tried.

Betsy has kindly made her PowerPoint presentation available either in HTML format or using Microsoft PowerPoint Animator.

B_CBR_T "CBR in British Telecom" - PowerPoint Animator

The message that came across from all the industrial speakers was we must be aware of social and organisational problems and issues as well as just solving technical problems for CBR to be a commercial success.


We then had to leave the hotel and walk a few hundred yards for lunch at the Chateau d'Ouchy, which was very pleasant, as were all the meals in Switzerland.



After lunch David Waltz of the NEC Research Institute & Brandeis University gave a talk on Memory Based Retrieval and an interesting forecasting technique termed Projective Visualisation.

It was during David's talk that one of the major themes of the Workshop started to come out. Namely, the trade off between accuracy or utility and knowledge engineering effort. At the Workshop (and this is a personal opinion) there were two schools of thought:

  1. A knowledge engineering-lite school who would happily use ML or CBR techniques and simple automated adaptation techniques and accept they might only solve 70-80% of problems reliably.
  2. A knowledge engineering school who believe you must model domain knowledge, use semantically and syntactically rich case representations and knowledge intensive adaptation techniques to improve on 70-80% reliability.

The KE-lite people believe the effort required to solve more that 70-80% of a problem is not worthwhile particularly in a commercial context. The other camp think the KE-lite people are ducking the really interesting problems. This basic difference in approach would arise time and time again during the presentation of the scientific papers.

David Waltz appeared to be in the KE-lite camp as did most of the industrial speakers. This was particularly apparent when David presented work by Marc Goodman on Projective Visualisation. This approach is being marketed by a company called Continuum Software Inc.



The first day of the workshop ended with software demonstrations and a reception sponsored by Acknosoft.

Software demos and the drinks reception

Kevin Ashley started the second day with further develops of CATO, the trade secrets law CBR system.

CATO is able to construct complex arguments for a plaintiff and counter arguments based on case law. The system is definitely not KE-lite since it uses a complex hierarchy of legal features created by classic knowledge engineering.

It was interesting to hear how CATO has been evaluated on law students and that in general it performs as well as a skilled and experienced human teacher.


Hector Munoz-Avila presented a CBR system with a feedback loop for automatically adjusting the weight of features. Assigning weights to case features has always been problematic since if the weights are wrong they can profoundly affect the accuracy of retrieval. Hector described a system for incrementally rewarding or penalising a feature's weight depending on the success or failure of adaptation. The system called CAPlan therefore uses a case-based approach to optimise its performance with time.

Hugh Osborne, to my mind, then deserved an award for his excellent use of props. A child's wooden construction set was used to great effect to illustrate how symbol hierarchies and ordered sets can be manipulated to provide a similarity metric for cases resulting in a qualitative ranking rather than a numeric measure of similarity.

It was interesting to compare Hugh's presentation with the more formal written paper in the proceedings.


Derek Bridge & Hugh Osborne of York University



Enric Plaza presented a new technique for measuring the similitude of hierarchical structures. He presented interesting test data that compared his technique favourably against standard ML techniques such as C4.5 and CN2.


An alternative way of measuring similarity using Bayes' Theorem was illustrated by Henry Tirri who wins my award for best dressed delegate by arriving at the Conference Dinner in an evening suite.


An impeccably dressed Finn at the Beau Rivage Hotel

 A Java demo of Henry's system called D-SIDE is available at:





Henry's evening suite bring us nicely onto the Conference Dinner that was held in a very upmarket hotel. The food was excellent, the surroundings palatial and the service very attentive. More over, the wine and cognacs kept flowing.

a few glasses on the table

The unusual thing I noticed is that on the way home after dinner my camera wouldn't focus any more....

Somewhat blurred images of the Beau Rivage Hotel, Lausanne

Before dinner an important meeting was held of the EWCBR96 programme committee and other interested people. At this meeting it was decided that the Irish would host the next EWCBR in Dublin in 1998. A discussion was also instigated by Kevin Ashley on whether or not we wanted a CBR journal. This revisits the discussion instigated by David Aha at ICCBR95 on an organisation or society for CBR since this would be a prerequisite for having our own journal. In general it was felt that a CBR journal would not succeed yet because initially it would not have a reputation. Consequently, if we had a good paper we would choose to send it to a more recognised journal rather than our own CBR journal.

It was decided (and I'm reminding you if you were there) that those of us who are on editorial boards of journals should lobby for special issues of the journals dedicated to CBR. This, it was felt, would raise the profile of CBR to a wider audience and provide us with a place to publish. No decision was taken on a CBR organisation.

Jorg Schaff of the FABEL group presented a novel retrieval technique called Fish & Shrink, an improvement on their Fish & Sink technique. The results presented showed how complex structures can be retrieved very efficiently.

This is one of the many innovative techniques that the FABEL project have been experimenting with over the last few years as was also apparent when Carl-H Coulon presented TOPO: a system that detects structural similarity in cases and can use this knowledge to guide adaptation.

What seems remarkable about FABEL is that one project can use so many novel techniques.


Kathleen Hanney with A. Goel

The other large contingent at EWCBR96 were the Irish who presented several papers and posters on their work. Kathleen Hanney gave a very good talk on a simple system for generating adaptation rules from differences between similar cases. The technique was explained well and would seem to have general applicability across many domains. Personally I felt that this was another excellent piece of work from the Irish labs showing that adaptation can be informed by case data.

I was not alone in my views about Kathleen's work since she and Mark Keane were subsequently awarded a prize of 500 Swiss francs and a trophy for the Best Paper at EWCBR 96.

I then had to leave the Workshop to catch my flight home and so I did not see the last session. However, before I left Michel Manago and Kevin Ashley had an interesting announcement for an International Summer School on Advanced Information Technologies for the 3rd Millennium. This would take place for two weeks in July 1999 on the Greek island of Spetsai. About 100 post-grads and post-docs would attend to hear lectures from the world's leading authorities in AI, CBR, agents, etc.. If you are interested contact Kevin or Michel.

Finally, I must thank Ian Smith and Boi Faltings for chairing and organising this event.

Ian Smith & Boi Faltings

See you all in Rhode Island next summer for ICCBR97.

Ian Watson
November 1996

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