Message-Based Web Service Composition, Integrity Constraints, and Planning under Uncertainty: A New Connection

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Thanks to recent advances, AI Planning has become the underlying technique for several applications. Figuring prominently among these is automated Web Service Composition (WSC) at the "capability" level, where services are described in terms of preconditions and effects over ontological concepts. A key issue in addressing WSC as planning is that ontologies are not only formal vocabularies; they also axiomatize the possible relationships between concepts. Such axioms correspond to what has been termed "integrity constraints" in the actions and change literature, and applying a web service is essentially a belief update operation. The reasoning required for belief update is known to be harder than reasoning in the ontology itself. The support for belief update is severely limited in current planning tools.

Our first contribution consists in identifying an interesting special case of WSC which is both significant and more tractable. The special case, which we term "forward effects", is characterized by the fact that every ramification of a web service application involves at least one new constant generated as output by the web service. We show that, in this setting, the reasoning required for belief update simplifies to standard reasoning in the ontology itself. This relates to, and extends, current notions of "message-based" WSC, where the need for belief update is removed by a strong (often implicit or informal) assumption of "locality" of the individual messages. We clarify the computational properties of the forward effects case, and point out a strong relation to standard notions of planning under uncertainty, suggesting that effective tools for the latter can be successfully adapted to address the former.

Furthermore, we identify a significant sub-case, named "strictly forward effects", where an actual compilation into planning under uncertainty exists. This enables us to exploit off-the-shelf planning tools to solve message-based WSC in a general form that involves powerful ontologies, and requires reasoning about partial matches between concepts. We provide empirical evidence that this approach may be quite effective, using Conformant-FF as the underlying planner.

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