Fuzzy Logic – A Tool for Managing Uncertainty and Complexity

fuzzy logicIn all domains, from marketing to engineering we need to deal with uncertainty to invent, create, solve problems and make decisions. Fuzzy logic is a logic system that is helping us do all of these things better by programming systems to think as humans do.

Since the 18th century, probability theory has been a favorite tool for measuring and managing uncertainty. It tells us how probable an event is to happen within a set of possibilities. Students in most disciplines are encouraged and often required to learn probability concepts and counting techniques.

Fuzzy logic seeks to get even closer to the real number by accepting that we are unable to provide an exact number to umpteen decimal points for many uncertainties in life. Information is often imperfect and data has errors. By replacing binary either/or options with if/then possibilities, fuzzy logic expands the choices and subjective attributes that can be considered.

Fuzzy Logic and Decision Making

Let’s look at a simplified example. You want to buy a ski resort in the French Alps but you need to make x amount of dollars to be profitable. Many factors are involved in determining your decision – snow days, cost of operating fake snow makers, temperature, school vacations – oh là ! Fuzzy logic uses human reasoning to evaluate such scenarios. If only 50% of the snow requirement is met, you must pay to create 50% fake snow.  If 10% of the snow requirement is met, you will choose not to open (rather than create 90% fake snow), and so on. In a real analysis, there are many more variables and steps in the process.

Probability theory would approach this problem by estimating the likelihood that enough snow will fall on x days throughout the snow season. It likes the Boolean expressions you learn in first year calculus – A or B, A and B, A not B. In weather-dependent decisions, fuzzy logic often improves profitability by providing more precise information (see the sample of growing maize crops in West Africa below). This is because fuzzy logic is better at capturing ambiguity, chaos and imprecision, and thus making fuzzy information more precise.

By moving us beyond the confines of the binary world, fuzzy systems give us more choices. Fuzzy logic expert Burt Kosko of the University of Southern California says the beauty of fuzzy logic is that fuzzy systems can solve problems using basic human reasoning. It does not require complex mathematical, economic or engineering models. In fact, fuzzy thinking can do away with the numbers and use logic phrases, allowing fuzzy rules to be programmed in English. Kosko says the simpler language makes it easier to put lots of powerful fuzzy systems on a chip.

Practical Applications of Fuzzy Logic

Fuzzy logic was initially used in control systems such as camera lenses. If the lighting meter reads X, then adjust the lens aperture to Y. If you have a background in digital electronics and circuits, then you may already be designing systems with fuzzy logic. Today, fuzzy logic is behind many systems in our lives – from washing machines to smartphone apps.

  • Sparksfly is a new social media application that consolidates social media accounts to better manage social flows. A proprietary Fuzzy Logic Engine filters feeds by people, keywords and established routines.  The engine can track who, what when and where across social media channels and find connections among social network activity. For example, it can tell you if a contact on Twitter and a contact on Facebook are connected to the same person on LinkedIn.
  • A fuzzy logic model has been used to estimate maize planting dates in West Africa, where great variability in rainfall spatially and temporally has limited the accuracy of models. Applying if-then clauses across a larger set and more defined variables, the fuzzy logic approach has suggested planting dates as much as 10 to 20 days earlier with the potential for higher yields.
  • SQL injection attacks – a type of malicious computer virus – are on the rise, with 65% of surveyed organizations reporting an attack evading their perimeter defenses over the last 12 months, according to a Ponemon survey. SQL is a widely used structured query language for requesting information from a database. Virus hackers have had a hard time killing this virus. DB Networks’ behavioral modeling solution uses fuzzy logic to assess the threat to each SQL statement. Whether you are learning mySQL5, JQuery for beginners or other programming languages, programmers increasingly need an understanding of fuzzy logic to meet today’s programming challenges.

Fuzzy logic is a building block for more and more of the technology and systems in our lives. Recent technology in your daily life using fuzzy logic includes the Windows 8.1 phone’s smart assistant and Panasonic multicooker.

Fuzzy Logic in Business

Fuzzy logic is not just for engineers and computer programmers.  In the same way understanding probability theory helps you become a better thinker, understanding fuzzy logic will put you on the cutting edge of smart thinking at work. In any business role, it is helpful to understand how your products and services are designed. Understanding the basics of fuzzy systems can help you make better project management, problem solving and customer service decisions.

Managing uncertainty is also an integral part of business strategy and technology development. In management, the focus has traditionally been on control, consistency and reliability. Global business is about managing unpredictability and complexity. Chaos theory, non-linear strategy and fuzzy thinking all need to be in the manager’s toolbox. To learn how to understand and manage unpredictability, enroll in Business Strategy: How to Win in an Unpredictable World.

No matter what you do in life, you can benefit from an understanding of the fuzzy thinking that increasingly powers our lives.

References

Waongo, M., Laux, P., Traoré, S. B., Sanon, M., & Kunstmann, H. (2013). A crop model and fuzzy rule based approach for optimizing maize planting dates in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, (2013)