Introduction to Nettlesome

Nettlesome is a Python library that lets you use readable English phrases as semantic tags for your data. Once you’ve created tags, Nettlesome can automate the process of comparing the tags to determine whether they have the same meaning, whether one tag implies another, whether one tag contradicts another, or whether one tag is consistent with another.

This tutorial will show you how to use some of Nettlesome’s basic classes: Predicate, Statement, and Comparison.

“Predicates” as descriptors

A Predicate should contain an English-language phrase in the past tense. The use of the past tense reflects Nettlesome’s original use case of legal analysis, which is usually backward-looking, determining the legal effect of past acts or past conditions.

To create a useful Predicate, you might remember from grade school that in a simple sentence the “subject” and any “objects” are typically nouns, while the “predicate” is a verb phrase that describes an action or relationship of those nouns. In Nettlesome you can consider marking the subject and object nouns as “terms” that should be represented by placeholders in the Predicate's template string. Generally, concepts that are part of your data model are good choices to designate as “terms”, while other nouns that aren’t relevant enough to be part of your data model don’t need to be terms.

For instance, this example might be a good Predicate for a data model about determining whether an individual is an owner or employee of a company:

>>> from nettlesome import Predicate
>>> account_for_company = Predicate(content="$applicant opened a bank account for $company")

Because $applicant and $company are marked as placeholders for Terms, you’ll be able to add more data about those entities later. But notice that the words “bank account” haven’t been replaced by a placeholder. That means you won’t be able to link this Predicate to a Term representing the bank account. That should be okay as long as your data model doesn’t need to include specific details about bank accounts.

Predicates also have a truth attribute that can be used to establish that one Predicate contradicts another.

>>> no_account_for_company = Predicate(
>>>     "$applicant opened a bank account for $company",
>>>     truth=False)
>>> str(no_account_for_company)
'it was false that $applicant opened a bank account for $company'

The truth attribute will become more significant as we build up to create more complex objects.

Formatting predicates

Placeholders for terms in a Predicate should be marked up using the placeholder syntax for a string.Template, which is a part of the Python standard library.

The placeholders you choose always need to $start_with_a_dollar_sign and they need to be valid Python identifiers, which means they can’t contain spaces. If a placeholder needs to be adjacent to a non-whitespace character, you also need to ${wrap_it_in_curly_braces}.

Don’t use capitalization or end punctuation to signal the beginning or end of the phrase in a Predicate, because the phrase may be used in a context where it’s only part of a longer sentence.

The use of different placeholders doesn’t cause Predicates to be considered to have different meanings. The example below demonstrates this using the means() method, which tests whether two Nettlesome objects have the same meaning.

>>> account_for_partnership = Predicate(content="$applicant opened a bank account for $partnership")
>>> account_for_company.means(account_for_partnership)

If you need to mention the same term more than once in a Predicate, use the same placeholder for that term each time. If you later create a Statement object using the same Predicate, you will only include each unique Term once, in the order they first appear.

In this example, a Predicate's template has two placeholders referring to the identical Term. Even though the rest of the text is the same, the reuse of the same Term means that the Predicate has a different meaning.

>>> account_for_self = Predicate(content="$applicant opened a bank account for $applicant")
>>> account_for_self.means(account_for_company)

Linking predicates to entities

Basically, a Statement is a Predicate plus the Terms that need to be included to make the Statement a complete phrase.

>>> from nettlesome import Statement, Entity
>>> statement = Statement(
>>>     predicate=account_for_company,
>>>     terms=[Entity(name="Sarah"), Entity(name="Acme Corporation")])
>>> str(statement)
'the statement that <Sarah> opened a bank account for <Acme Corporation>'

An Entity is a Term representing a person or thing. If you’re lucky enough to be able to run effective Named Entity Recognition techniques on your dataset, you may already have good candidates for the Entity objects that should be included in your Statements. The data model of an Entity in Nettlesome includes just a name attribute, an attribute indicating whether the Entity should be considered generic, and a plural attribute mainly used to determine whether the word “was” after the Entity should be replaced with “were”.

>>> not_at_school = Predicate(content="$group were at school", truth=False)
>>> plural_statement = Statement(not_at_school, terms=[Entity(name="the students", plural=True)])
>>> str(plural_statement)
'the statement it was false that <the students> were at school'
>>> singular_statement = Statement(not_at_school, terms=[Entity(name="Lee", plural=False)])
>>> str(singular_statement)
'the statement it was false that <Lee> was at school'

Generic Terms

The generic attribute is more subtle than the plural attribute. An Entity should be marked as generic if it’s really being used as a stand-in for a broader category. For instance, in singular_statement above, the fact that <Lee> is generic indicates that the Statement isn’t really about a specific incident when Lee was not at school. Instead, it’s more about the concept of someone not being at school. In Nettlesome, when angle brackets appear around the string representation of an object, that’s an indication that the object is generic.

If two Statements have different generic Entities but they’re otherwise the same, they’re still considered to have the same meaning as one another. That’s the case even if one of the Entities is plural while the other is singular.

>>> plural_statement.means(singular_statement)

However, sometimes you need to label an Entity as being somehow sui generis, so that Statements about that Entity aren’t really applicable to other, generic Entities. In that case, you can set the Entity’s generic attribute to False and it’ll no longer be found to have the same meaning as generic Entities.

>>> harry_statement = Statement(not_at_school, terms=Entity(name="Harry Potter", generic=False))
>>> harry_statement.means(singular_statement)

By default, Entities are generic and Statements are not generic. Both of these defaults can be changed when you create instances of the respective classes.

Comparing quantitative statements

The Comparison class extends the concept of a Predicate. A Comparison still contains a truth value and a template string, but that template should be used to identify a quantity that will be compared to an expression using a sign such as an equal sign or a greater-than sign. This expression must be a constant: either an integer, a floating point number, or a physical Quantity expressed in units that can be parsed using the pint library.

>>> from nettlesome import Comparison
>>> weight_in_pounds = Comparison(
>>>     "the weight of ${driver}'s vehicle was",
>>>     sign=">",
>>>     expression="26000 pounds")
>>> pounds_statement = Statement(weight_in_pounds, terms=Entity(name="Alice"))
>>> str(pounds_statement)
"the statement that the weight of <Alice>'s vehicle was greater than 26000 pound"

Statements including Comparisons will handle unit conversions when applying operations like implies() or contradicts().

>>> weight_in_kilos = Comparison(
>>>     "the weight of ${driver}'s vehicle was",
>>>     sign="<=",
>>>     expression="3000 kilograms")
>>> kilos_statement = Statement(weight_in_kilos, terms=Entity(name="Alice"))
>>>> str(kilos_statement)
"the statement that the weight of <Alice>'s vehicle was no more than 3000 kilogram"
>>> pounds_statement.contradicts(kilos_statement)

Formatting comparisons

To encourage consistent phrasing, the template string in every Comparison object must end with the word “was”.

If you phrase a Comparison with an inequality sign using truth=False, Nettlesome will silently modify your statement so it can have truth=True with a different sign. In this example, the user’s input indicates that it’s false that the weight of marijuana possessed by a defendant was an ounce or more. Nettlesome interprets this to mean it’s true that the weight was less than one ounce.

>>> drug_comparison_with_upper_bound = Comparison(
>>>    "the weight of marijuana that $defendant possessed was",
>>>     sign=">=",
>>>     expression="1 ounce",
>>>     truth=False)
>>> str(drug_comparison_with_upper_bound)
'that the weight of marijuana that $defendant possessed was less than 1 ounce'

An expression can also be a Python

>>> license_date = Comparison(
>>>     "the date $dentist became a licensed dentist was",
>>>     sign="<",
>>>     expression=date(1990, 1, 1))
>>> str(license_date)
'that the date $dentist became a licensed dentist was less than 1990-01-01'

When the number needed for a Comparison is neither a date nor a physical quantity that can be described with physical units like “pounds” or “meters”, you should phrase the text in the template string to explain what the number describes. The template string will still need to end with the word “was”. The value of the expression parameter should be an integer or a floating point number, not a string to be parsed.

>>> three_children = Comparison(
>>>     "the number of children in ${taxpayer}'s household was",
>>>     sign="=",
>>>     expression=3)
>>> str(three_children)
"that the number of children in ${taxpayer}'s household was exactly equal to 3"

Comparing groups of statements

If you pass a list of Statements to the FactorGroup constructor, you can then check to see whether those Statements, taken as a group, implies another Statement or group of Statements.

Here, the use of placeholders that are identical except for a digit on the end indicates to Nettlesome that the positions of the Entities in those places should be considered interchangeable. (In this example, if site1 is a certain distance away from site2, then site2 must also be the same distance away from site1.)

>>> from nettlesome import FactorGroup
>>> more_than_100_yards = Comparison(
>>>     "the distance between $site1 and $site2 was",
>>>     sign=">",
>>>     expression="100 yards")
>>> less_than_1_mile = Comparison(
>>>     "the distance between $site1 and $site2 was",
>>>     sign="<",
>>>     expression="1 mile")
>>> protest_facts = FactorGroup(
>>>     [Statement(
>>>         more_than_100_yards,
>>>         terms=[Entity(name="the political convention"), Entity(name="the police cordon")]),
>>>      Statement(
>>>         less_than_1_mile,
>>>         terms=[Entity(name="the police cordon"), Entity(name="the political convention")])])
>>> str(protest_facts)
"FactorGroup(['the statement that the distance between <the political convention> and <the police cordon> was greater than 100 yard', 'the statement that the distance between <the police cordon> and <the political convention> was less than 1 mile'])"
>>> more_than_50_meters = Comparison(
>>>     "the distance between $site1 and $site2 was",
>>>     sign=">",
>>>     expression="50 meters")
>>> less_than_2_km = Comparison(
>>>     "the distance between $site1 and $site2 was",
>>>     sign="<=",
>>>     expression="2 km")
>>> speech_zone_facts = FactorGroup(
>>>     [Statement(
>>>         more_than_50_meters,
>>>         terms=[Entity(name="the free speech zone"), Entity(name="the courthouse")]),
>>>      Statement(
>>>         less_than_2_km,
>>>         terms=[Entity(name="the free speech zone"), Entity(name="the courthouse")])])
>>> protest_facts.implies(speech_zone_facts)