On the Expressiveness of Languages for Complex Event Recognition

Authors Alejandro Grez, Cristian Riveros, Martín Ugarte, Stijn Vansummeren

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Alejandro Grez
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile
  • Millennium Institute for Foundational Research on Data, Santiago, Chile
Cristian Riveros
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile
  • Millennium Institute for Foundational Research on Data, Santiago, Chile
Martín Ugarte
  • Millennium Institute for Foundational Research on Data, Santiago, Chile
Stijn Vansummeren
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

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Alejandro Grez, Cristian Riveros, Martín Ugarte, and Stijn Vansummeren. On the Expressiveness of Languages for Complex Event Recognition. In 23rd International Conference on Database Theory (ICDT 2020). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 155, pp. 15:1-15:17, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2020)


Complex Event Recognition (CER for short) has recently gained attention as a mechanism for detecting patterns in streams of continuously arriving event data. Numerous CER systems and languages have been proposed in the literature, commonly based on combining operations from regular expressions (sequencing, iteration, and disjunction) and relational algebra (e.g., joins and filters). While these languages are naturally first-order, meaning that variables can only bind single elements, they also provide capabilities for filtering sets of events that occur inside iterative patterns; for example requiring sequences of numbers to be increasing. Unfortunately, these type of filters usually present ad-hoc syntax and under-defined semantics, precisely because variables cannot bind sets of events. As a result, CER languages that provide filtering of sequences commonly lack rigorous semantics and their expressive power is not understood. In this paper we embark on two tasks: First, to define a denotational semantics for CER that naturally allows to bind and filter sets of events; and second, to compare the expressive power of this semantics with that of CER languages that only allow for binding single events. Concretely, we introduce Set-Oriented Complex Event Logic (SO-CEL for short), a variation of the CER language introduced in [Grez et al., 2019] in which all variables bind to sets of matched events. We then compare SO-CEL with CEL, the CER language of [Grez et al., 2019] where variables bind single events. We show that they are equivalent in expressive power when restricted to unary predicates but, surprisingly, incomparable in general. Nevertheless, we show that if we restrict to sets of binary predicates, then SO-CEL is strictly more expressive than CEL. To get a better understanding of the expressive power, computational capabilities, and limitations of SO-CEL, we also investigate the relationship between SO-CEL and Complex Event Automata (CEA), a natural computational model for CER languages. We define a property on CEA called the *-property and show that, under unary predicates, SO-CEL captures precisely the subclass of CEA that satisfy this property. Finally, we identify the operations that SO-CEL is lacking to characterize CEA and introduce a natural extension of the language that captures the complete class of CEA under unary predicates.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Information systems → Data streams
  • Information systems → Query operators
  • Theory of computation → Formal languages and automata theory
  • Query languages
  • Complex Event Recognition
  • Logics
  • Automata theory


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