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Besides its use in explicating the notion of can, the automaton representation of the world is very suited for illustrating notions of causality. For, we may say that subautomaton p caused the condition tex2html_wrap_inline461 in state s, if changing the output of p would prevent tex2html_wrap_inline461 . In fact the whole idea of a system of interacting automata is mainly a formalization of the commonsense notion of causality.

The automaton representation can be used to explicate certain counterfactual conditional sentences. For example, we have the sentence, ``If another car had come over the hill when you just passed, there would have been a head-on collision''. We can imagine an automaton representation in which whether a car came over the hill is one of the outputs of a traffic subautomaton. [Costello and McCarthy 1999] discusses useful counterfactuals, like the above that are imbedded in a description of a situation and have consequences. One use is that they permit learning from an experience you didn't quite have and would rather not have.

John McCarthy
Sun Nov 21 23:39:43 PST 1999