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Planning an Argument

Posted on 02/07/2015

Planning An Argument

Dr Elizabeth Black from the Agents and Intelligent Systems research group in the Department of Informatics has been awarded £98,726 from the EPSRC for the Planning an Argument project. The goal of the project is to investigate the use of automated planning techniques for determining effective strategies to use when arguing.

While in the past machines waited passively for our commands, we are moving to a future where humans and machines work in partnership, where machines are proactive and guide humans' activities. A key challenge is how to allow humans to engage with these machines (which may be software systems or robots) in order to understand and engage with the decisions the machines take. These machines must be able to justify their choices and explain why a particular course of action is appropriate, and humans must be able to challenge these justifications and input into the machine's decision making process. Argument dialogues are an established approach to managing such interactions; they provide a principled way of structuring rational interactions between participants (machines or human) who may, e.g., assert arguments, beliefs and preferences, and question or challenge one another's assertions. A key benefit of argument dialogues is that they provide a familiar mechanism through which a human can engage with a machine's reasoning.

When a machine engages in an argument dialogue it must determine which of the available speech acts to make in order to try and achieve its dialogue goals, this is called its argument dialogue strategy. The Planning an Argument project will address the important open problem of how to generate an argument dialogue strategy, by leveraging the results of many years of automated planning research. Automated planning is one of the most well developed sub-fields of artificial intelligence and focuses on developing efficient and general approaches to determine which actions to perform in order to achieve some goal. This is exactly the problem we must solve in order to generate argument dialogue strategies, where the actions are the communicative speech acts and the goals typically refer to social constructs or commitments rather than physical states of the world.

The work done in the Planning an Argument project will help us to allow humans to engage with and understand a machine's decision making process, which is crucial if we are to trust machines to take decisions for us. In this 14 month project we focus particularly on healthcare applications but the potential applications are wide ranging, including robots that do dangerous tasks and smart homes that manage our domestic life. For more information, contact Dr Elizabeth Black.

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