A major inference task in Bayesian networks is explaining why some variables are observed in their particular states using a set of target variables. Existing methods for solving this problem often generate explanations that are either too simple (underspecified) or too complex (overspecified). In this paper, we introduce a method called Most Relevant Explanation (MRE) which finds a partial instantiation of the target variables that maximizes the generalized Bayes factor (GBF) as the best explanation for the given evidence. Our study shows that GBF has several theoretical properties that enable MRE to automatically identify the most relevant target variables in forming its explanation. In particular, conditional Bayes factor (CBF), defined as the GBF of a new explanation conditioned on an existing explanation, provides a soft measure on the degree of relevance of the variables in the new explanation in explaining the evidence given the existing explanation. As a result, MRE is able to automatically prune less relevant variables from its explanation. We also show that CBF is able to capture well the explaining-away phenomenon that is often represented in Bayesian networks. Moreover, we define two dominance relations between the candidate solutions and use the relations to generalize MRE to find a set of top explanations that is both diverse and representative. Case studies on several benchmark diagnostic Bayesian networks show that MRE is often able to find explanatory hypotheses that are not only precise but also concise.

Pinhanez, Claudio S., Candello, Heloisa, Pichiliani, Mauro C., Vasconcelos, Marisa, Guerra, Melina, de Bayser, Maíra G., Cavalin, Paulo

This work compares user collaboration with conversational personal assistants vs. teams of expert chatbots. Two studies were performed to investigate whether each approach affects accomplishment of tasks and collaboration costs. Participants interacted with two equivalent financial advice chatbot systems, one composed of a single conversational adviser and the other based on a team of four experts chatbots. Results indicated that users had different forms of experiences but were equally able to achieve their goals. Contrary to the expected, there were evidences that in the teamwork situation that users were more able to predict agent behavior better and did not have an overhead to maintain common ground, indicating similar collaboration costs. The results point towards the feasibility of either of the two approaches for user collaboration with conversational agents.

Thompson Sampling is one of the oldest heuristics for multi-armed bandit problems. It is a randomized algorithm based on Bayesian ideas, and has recently generated significant interest after several studies demonstrated it to have better empirical performance compared to the state of the art methods. In this paper, we provide a novel regret analysis for Thompson Sampling that simultaneously proves both the optimal problem-dependent bound of $(1+\epsilon)\sum_i \frac{\ln T}{\Delta_i}+O(\frac{N}{\epsilon^2})$ and the first near-optimal problem-independent bound of $O(\sqrt{NT\ln T})$ on the expected regret of this algorithm. Our near-optimal problem-independent bound solves a COLT 2012 open problem of Chapelle and Li. The optimal problem-dependent regret bound for this problem was first proven recently by Kaufmann et al. [ALT 2012]. Our novel martingale-based analysis techniques are conceptually simple, easily extend to distributions other than the Beta distribution, and also extend to the more general contextual bandits setting [Manuscript, Agrawal and Goyal, 2012].

Dutta, Ritabrata, Mira, Antonietta, Onnela, Jukka-Pekka

Infectious diseases are studied to understand their spreading mechanisms, to evaluate control strategies and to predict the risk and course of future outbreaks. Because people only interact with a small number of individuals, and because the structure of these interactions matters for spreading processes, the pairwise relationships between individuals in a population can be usefully represented by a network. Although the underlying processes of transmission are different, the network approach can be used to study the spread of pathogens in a contact network or the spread of rumors in an online social network. We study simulated simple and complex epidemics on synthetic networks and on two empirical networks, a social / contact network in an Indian village and an online social network in the U.S. Our goal is to learn simultaneously about the spreading process parameters and the source node (first infected node) of the epidemic, given a fixed and known network structure, and observations about state of nodes at several points in time. Our inference scheme is based on approximate Bayesian computation (ABC), an inference technique for complex models with likelihood functions that are either expensive to evaluate or analytically intractable. ABC enables us to adopt a Bayesian approach to the problem despite the posterior distribution being very complex. Our method is agnostic about the topology of the network and the nature of the spreading process. It generally performs well and, somewhat counter-intuitively, the inference problem appears to be easier on more heterogeneous network topologies, which enhances its future applicability to real-world settings where few networks have homogeneous topologies.