Inference Engines

Inference engines, also known as semantic reasoners or reasoning engines, provide the technological glue that allows computer mediation to take place. Inferencing is the process where computers draw connections between pieces of data or metadata that have been previously described by a human. In the semantic web, these data points generally reside in an ontology. Inferencing is used in other areas of computer science as well, though generally in more limited and less distributed data sets.

Inference engines rely on a formalized language of logic to implement rules about the world in which inferencing takes place. This language is distinct from ontologies and uses concepts, roles, and individuals to describe the relationship between objects in the world. This allows computer software to find implicit facts using the explicit descriptions in your ontologies.

Potentially, this could uncover information that you aren't aware of or help to confirm or make clear assumptions you already have about your particular domain.

There are many inferencing engines, each with its particular specialty or purpose. Many of the available software libraries also contain some functionality for handling reasoning and inferencing. The W3C maintains a list of popular inferencing engines along with brief descriptions.

Suggested Citation

Alexander, P. 2011. "Inference Engines." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. Accessed October 26, 2020.