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6.1: Types of Problems

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    Ill- Defined and Well-Defined Problems

    Well-defined Problems For many abstract problems it is possible to find an algorithmic [4] solution. We call all those problems well-defined that can be properly formalised, which comes along with the following properties:

    · The problem has a clearly defined given state. This might be the line-up of a chess game, a given formula you have to solve, or the set-up of the towers of Hanoi game (which we will discuss later).

    · There is a finite set of operators, that is, of rules you may apply to the given state. For the chess game, e.g., these would be the rules that tell you which piece you may move to which position.

    · Finally, the problem has a clear goal state: The equations is resolved to x, all discs are moved to the right stack, or the other player is in checkmate.

    Not surprisingly, a problem that fulfils these requirements can be implemented algorithmically (also see convergent thinking). Therefore many well-defined problems can be very effectively solved by computers, like playing chess.

    Ill-defined Problems Though many problems can be properly formalised (sometimes only if we accept an enormous complexity) there are still others where this is not the case. Good examples for this are all kinds of tasks that involve creativity [5], and, generally speaking, all problems for which it is not possible to clearly define a given state and a goal state: Formalising a problem of the kind “Please paint a beautiful picture” may be impossible. Still this is a problem most people would be able to access in one way or the other, even if the result may be totally different from person to person. And while Knut might judge that picture X is gorgeous, you might completely disagree.

    Nevertheless ill-defined problems often involve sub-problems that can be totally well-defined. On the other hand, many every-day problems that seem to be completely well-defined involve- when examined in detail- a big deal of creativity and ambiguities. If we think of Knut's fairly ill- defined task of writing an essay, he will not be able to complete this task without first understanding the text he has to write about. This step is the first subgoal Knut has to solve. Interestingly, ill-defined problems often involve subproblems that are well-defined.

    This page titled 6.1: Types of Problems is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mehgan Andrade and Neil Walker.

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