Henrion, Max, Druzdzel, Marek J.

Comprehensible explanations of probabilistic reasoning are a prerequisite for wider acceptance of Bayesian methods in expert systems and decision support systems. A study of human reasoning under uncertainty suggests two different strategies for explaining probabilistic reasoning: The first, qualitative belief propagation, traces the qualitative effect of evidence through a belief network from one variable to the next. This propagation algorithm is an alternative to the graph reduction algorithms of Wellman (1988) for inference in qualitative probabilistic networks. It is based on a qualitative analysis of intercausal reasoning, which is a generalization of Pearl's "explaining away", and an alternative to Wellman's definition of qualitative synergy. The other, Scenario-based reasoning, involves the generation of alternative causal "stories" accounting for the evidence. Comparing a few of the most probable scenarios provides an approximate way to explain the results of probabilistic reasoning. Both schemes employ causal as well as probabilistic knowledge. Probabilities may be presented as phrases and/or numbers. Users can control the style, abstraction and completeness of explanations.

The last few years have seen a surge in interest in the use of techniques from Bayesian decision theory to address problems in AI. Decision theory provides a normative framework for representing and reasoning about decision problems under uncertainty. Within the context of this framework, researchers in uncertainty in the AI community have been developing computational techniques for building rational agents and representations suited to engineering their knowledge bases. This special issue reviews recent research in Bayesian problem-solving techniques. The articles cover the topics of inference in Bayesian networks, decision-theoretic planning, and qualitative decision theory. Here, I provide a brief introduction to Bayesian networks and then cover applications of Bayesian problem-solving techniques, knowledge-based model construction and structured representations, and the learning of graphic probability models.

Decision theory and nonmonotonic logics are formalisms that can be employed to represent and solve problems of planning under uncertainty. We analyze the usefulness of these two approaches by establishing a simple correspondence between the two formalisms. The analysis indicates that planning using nonmonotonic logic comprises two decision-theoretic concepts: probabilities (degrees of belief in planning hypotheses) and utilities (degrees of preference for planning outcomes). We present and discuss examples of the following lessons from this decision-theoretic view of nonmonotonic reasoning: (1) decision theory and nonmonotonic logics are intended to solve different components of the planning problem; (2) when considered in the context of planning under uncertainty, nonmonotonic logics do not retain the domain-independent characteristics of classical (monotonic) logic; and (3) because certain nonmonotonic programming paradigms (for example, frame-based inheritance, nonmonotonic logics) are inherently problem specific, they might be inappropriate for use in solving certain types of planning problems. We discuss how these conclusions affect several current AI research issues.

Since exact probabilistic inference is intractable in general for large multiply connected belief nets, approximate methods are required. A promising approach is to use heuristic search among hypotheses (instantiations of the network) to find the most probable ones, as in the TopN algorithm. Search is based on the relative probabilities of hypotheses which are efficient to compute. Given upper and lower bounds on the relative probability of partial hypotheses, it is possible to obtain bounds on the absolute probabilities of hypotheses. Best-first search aimed at reducing the maximum error progressively narrows the bounds as more hypotheses are examined. Here, qualitative probabilistic analysis is employed to obtain bounds on the relative probability of partial hypotheses for the BN20 class of networks networks and a generalization replacing the noisy OR assumption by negative synergy. The approach is illustrated by application to a very large belief network, QMR-BN, which is a reformulation of the Internist-1 system for diagnosis in internal medicine.

The last few years have seen a surge in interest in the use of techniques from Bayesian decision theory to address problems in AI. Decision theory provides a normative framework for representing and reasoning about decision problems under uncertainty. Within the context of this framework, researchers in uncertainty in the AI community have been developing computational techniques for building rational agents and representations suited to engineering their knowledge bases. The articles cover the topics of inference in Bayesian networks, decision-theoretic planning, and qualitative decision theory. Here, I provide a brief introduction to Bayesian networks and then cover applications of Bayesian problem-solving techniques, knowledge-based model construction and structured representations, and the learning of graphic probability models.