Skip to content

🚧 Under Construction 🚧

The HTML version of the tutorial is currently under construction; in particular, the figure annotations are missing. You may wish to view the PDF version here instead.

Part VIII: Episodic Memory

Episodic memory (EpMem) in Soar is a mechanism that automatically captures, stores, and temporally indexes agent state and supports a content-addressable agent interface to retrieve this autobiographical prior experience. This information supplements what is contained in short-term working memory and other long-term memories, such as rules in procedural memory.

A Short Demonstration

Before we delve into how an agent can use episodic memory, let’s see an example of capturing an episode and viewing the contents of the memory.

First, open the Soar Debugger. Then, execute the following command (this can be loaded from a source file just as any other Soar command):

epmem --set trigger dc

epmem --set learning on

watch --epmem

Now, click the “Step” button twice. If we inspect the trace, and ignore the state no-change impasses, we see the following message:


This is an indication that a new episode, with id 1, has been automatically stored by the architecture within the episodic store.

We can view the contents of episodic memory using the epmem --print command, which expects an episode id as an argument. For example, execute the following command:

epmem --print 1

Which will output the following result: ( ^io ^reward-link ^superstate nil ^type state) ( ^input-link ^output-link )

To pictorially view the contents of semantic memory, we can use the visualize command to render the contents of semantic memory to an image. For example, execute the following command:

visualize epmem

If you have graphviz and DOT installed (see for more detail), it should launch your system viewer to show a diagram similar to:

From both the trace output as well as the Graphviz rendering we can see that episodic memory has stored most of the top-state of the agent’s working memory at a particular moment in time. In the following sections we’ll examine in more detail how to control automatic storage and how agents can retrieve episodic knowledge.

Episodic Storage

As we saw in Part 1 of this tutorial, episodic storage is automatic and captures the top state of the agent’s working memory. To enable storage, episodic memory must be enabled. By default, all learning mechanisms in Soar are disabled. To enable episodic memory, issue the following command:

epmem --set learning on

There are a few architectural parameters that are important to control episodic storage. The first is the event that triggers storage. By default, episodic memory stores new episodes whenever a WME is added to working memory that has the output-link as its identifier. However, Soar also supports storing episodes each decision cycle (“dc”), which is enabled using the following command (which we used in Part 1 of this tutorial):

epmem --set trigger dc

The next important parameter is the phase during which episodic memory stores episodes (and processes retrievals, as discussed later). By default, this processing occurs at the end of the output phase. However, Soar also supports this processing occurring at the end of the decision phase, which is enabled using the following command:

epmem --set phase selection

Finally, it is sometimes the case that certain portions of the agent’s working memory should be excluded from automatic storage. Episodic memory supports specifying a set of excluded attributes: if automatic storage encounters an excluded attribute during a breadth-first walk of working memory, it does not store that WME, nor any substructure if it was the case that the value of the WME was an identifier. To view the current excluded set, issue the following command:

epmem --get exclusions

To change the excluded set, issue the following command:

epmem --set exclusions <attribute>

This command toggles the state of an attribute within the set: thus if this command is executed with an attribute that is already in the excluded set, it is removed from the set, otherwise it is added. By default, “epmem” and “smem” are in the excluded set, which is why we do not see these architectural links in the trace/visualization in Part 1 of this tutorial.

In Part 1, we also enabled trace output that is useful for understanding episodic memory via the following command:

watch --epmem

This trace option indicates when new episodes are recorded, as well as debugging information for retrievals, as discussed later.

Agent Interaction

Agents interact with episodic memory via special structures in working memory. Soar automatically creates an epmem link on each state, and each epmem link has specialized substructure: a command link for agent-initiated actions and a result link for feedback from episodic memory. For instance, issue the following command:

print --depth 10 <s>

If you read the output carefully you will notice a WME that can be generally represented as ( ^epmem ) and three additional WMEs that can be represented as ( ^command ), ( ^result ), and ( ^present-id )

As described in the following sections, the agent, via rules, populates and maintains the command link and the architecture populates and cleans up the result link. As episodes are stored, the present-id augmentation updates to indicate the current episode id, the value of which is a positive integer.

For the agent to interact with episodic memory, this mechanism must be enabled. As mentioned in Part 2, by default, all learning mechanisms in Soar are disabled and so you must enable episodic memory via the command in Part 2.

By default, all commands are processed during the agent’s output phase (this can be changed using the phase parameter, as described in Part 2 of this tutorial) and only one command can be issued per state per decision.

Cue-Based Retrieval

The primary method that an agent can retrieve knowledge from episodic memory is called a cue-based retrieval: the agent requests from episodic memory an episode that most closely matches a cue of working-memory elements. The syntax of the command is ( ^query ), where forms the root of the cue. Conceptually, episodic memory compares the cue to all episodes in the store, scoring each one, and returns the most recent episode with the maximal score.

Episodes are scored based upon the leaf WMEs in the cue. A leaf WME has either a value that is a constant, a long-term identifier, or a short-term identifier with no augmentations. A leaf WME is satisfied, with respect to a particular episode, if there exists a path, or sequence of WMEs, from the episode root to that leaf WME, where the attributes of all intermediate WMEs exactly match those in the cue, and short-term identifiers in the cue variablize to consistently match identifiers in the episode. This is similar to how variables in the conditions of rules bind to specific identifiers in working memory. However, as discussed below, episode scoring is disjunctive with respect to leaf WMEs (i.e. each leaf WME is considered independently), whereas rule matching is conjunctive with respect to production conditions (i.e. a rule matches only if all conditions are satisfied). By default, the score of an episode is simply the number of satisfied leaf WMEs.

Let us consider an example cue, composed of the following WMEs, where N1 is the value of the query command, as described above: (N1 ^feature value ^id N2) (N2 ^sub-feature value2 ^sub-id N3)

Or, visually:

This cue has three leaf WMEs: (N1 ^feature value), (N2 ^sub-feature value2), and (N2 ^id N3). Now consider the following episode:

The first leaf WME of the cue, (N1 ^feature value), is not satisfied by this episode, as there is no (E1 ^feature value) WME: (E1 ^feature2 value) has a different attribute and (E1 ^feature value3) has a different value. Both other leaf WMEs, however, are satisfied. (N2 ^sub-feature value2) is satisfied by variablizing E1 as N1 and E2 as N2: (E1 ^id E2) and (E2 ^sub-feature value2). (N2 ^id N3) is satisfied by variablizing E1 as N1, E3 as N2, and E5 as N3: (E1 ^id E3), (E3 ^sub-id E5). Note that the substructure of E4 in the episode matches that of N2 in the cue, but there is no WME (E1 ^id E4), and so E4 is not considered. Thus, this episode, with respect to the cue, has a score of 2.

Note, however, that it is not possible to unify the cue with the episode: there is no single identifier in the episode that, when bound as N2 in the cue, satisfies both (N2 ^sub-feature value2) and (N2 ^sub-id N3). If an episode gets a perfect score, such that all leaf WMEs are satisfied, episodic memory attempts to graph match the cue with the episode (i.e. determine if there exists an isomorphism between the cue and the episode). So in response to a cue-based retrieval command, episodic memory will return the most recent graph-matched episode, or, if one does not exist, the most recent episode with the maximal episode score. For clarity, episode recency is directly proportional to the episode id, where larger episode id’s are more recent.

Let’s see how the example above works in Soar. Run the Soar Debugger and source the following rules (these rules are already part of the epmem-tutorial.soar file in the Agents directory):

sp {propose\*init
(state <s> ^superstate nil
(<s> ^operator <op> + =)
(<op> ^name init)}
sp {apply\*init
(state <s> ^operator <op>)
(<op> ^name init)
(<s> ^name epmem
^feature2 value
^feature value3
^id <e2>
^id <e3>
^other-id <e4>)
(<e2> ^sub-feature value2)
(<e3> ^sub-id <e5>)
(<e4> ^sub-id <e6>
^sub-feature value2)}
sp {epmem*propose*cbr
(state <s> ^name epmem

(<s> ^operator <op> + =)
(<op> ^name cbr)}
sp {epmem*apply*cbr-clean
(state <s> ^operator <op>
^feature2 <f2>
^feature <f>
^id <e2>
^id <e3>
^other-id <e4>)
(<e2> ^sub-feature value2)
(<e3> ^sub-id)
(<op> ^name cbr)
(<s> ^feature2 <f2> -
^feature <f> -
^id <e2> -
^id <e3> -
^other-id <e4> -)}
sp {epmem*apply*cbr-query
   (state <s> ^operator <op>
      ^epmem.command <cmd>)
   (<op> ^name cbr)
   (<cmd> ^query <n1>)
   (<n1> ^feature value
      ^id <n2>)
   (<n2> ^sub-feature value2
      ^sub-id <n3>)}

Now execute the following commands:

epmem --set trigger dc
epmem --set learning on
watch --epmem

Then click the “Step” button and then the “Run 1 -p” button. Now print out the top state of working memory (print --depth 10 s1). Notice that the top state contains the structures of the sample episode above (such as ^feature value), as well as other WMEs (such as ^superstate nil).

Now click the “Step” button. You should notice in the trace that episode #1 was stored. Click the “Run 1 -p” button to apply the cbr operator and print the top state of working memory (print --depth 10 s1). Notice that the structures of the sample episode have been removed and that the sample cue has been added to the command structure of the epmem link.

Now click the “Run 1 -p” button. Episodic memory stored another episode (#2) and then processed the cue-based query. The trace contains the following text:

CONSIDERING EPISODE (time, cardinality, score): (1, 2, 2.000000)

NEW KING (perfect, graph-match): (false, false)

The first line indicates that episodic memory compared the cue to episode #1 (i.e. time=1), found that the cardinality of the set of satisfied leaf WMEs was 2, and thus the episode was scored as 2. Since this was the first considered episode, it is indicated as “king” . However, since the episode did not have a perfect score (2 out of 3), graph-match was not attempted and was thus not successful. Since episode #2 did not have any features in common with the cue (application of the cbr operator removed these structures), episodic memory did not consider it as a performance optimization.

Now print the full contents of the episodic memory link:

$ print --depth 10 e1
(E1 ^command C1 ^present-id 3 ^result R2)
(C1 ^query N1)
(N1 ^feature value ^id N2)
(N2 ^sub-feature value2 ^sub-id N3)
(R2 ^cue-size 3 ^graph-match 0 ^match-cardinality 2
^match-score 2.^memory-id 1
^normalized-match-score 0.6666666666666666 ^present-id 3
^retrieved R4 ^success N1)
(R4 ^feature value3 ^feature2 value
^id I5 ^id I6 ^io I4 ^name epmem
^operator\* O5 ^other-id O4 ^reward-link R5
^superstate nil ^type state)
(I5 ^sub-feature value2)
(I6 ^sub-id S3)
(I4 ^input-link I7 ^output-link O6)
(O5 ^name cbr)
(O4 ^sub-feature value2 ^sub-id S4)

The result structure indicates that the retrieval was successful, has a link to the full episode contents (rooted at R4), and has meta-data about the cue-matching process, with respect to the retrieved episode. Details of these augmentations are in the Episodic Memory chapter of the Soar Manual. Note that a WME with an “operator*” attribute (such as: R4 ^operator* R5) in a retrieved episode represents an acceptable preference WME in the original episode.

There are optional modifiers to cue-based queries, including the ability to prohibit specific episodes from being retrieved and indicating features that are not desirable in the retrieved episode. More information on this functionality is in the Episodic Memory chapter of the Soar Manual.

Temporal Progression

Another way the agent can gain access to episodes is by retrieving the episode that came temporally before/after the last episode that was retrieved. The syntax of these commands, respectively, are ( ^previous ) and ( ^next ), where is any identifier.

As an example, add the following rules to our agent from Part 4 of this tutorial (these rules are already part of the epmem-tutorial.soar file in the Agents directory):

sp {epmem*propose*next
(state <s> ^name epmem
(<s> ^operator <op> + =)
(<op> ^name next)}
sp {epmem*apply*next
(state <s> ^operator <op>
^epmem.command <cmd>)
(<op> ^name next)
(<cmd> ^query <q>)
(<cmd> ^query <q> -
^next <next>)}

These rules will retrieve the episode that temporally proceeds the episode retrieved in the previous part of this tutorial.

Click the “Step” button, then the “Run 1 -p” button. Now print the episodic memory link (print --depth 10 e1). Notice that the query command has been replaced with a next command. Note that the results of the previous commands are still in working memory: these will be automatically cleaned by episodic memory when the next command is processed.

Now click the “Run 1 -p” button and print the episodic memory link (print --depth 10 e1): (E1 ^command C1 ^present-id 4 ^result R2) (C1 ^next N4) (R2 ^memory-id 2 ^present-id 4 ^retrieved R6 ^success N4) (R6 ^io I8 ^name epmem ^operator* O7 ^reward-link R ^superstate nil ^type state) (I8 ^input-link I9 ^output-link O8) (O7 ^name next)

The result structure has been cleaned of old structures and now shows that the command was successful and episode #2 was retrieved (with all of its original contents).

You now have some basic understanding of using episodic memory. Read the Episodic Memory chapter of the Soar manual for additional detail and functionality.