Clouds, p-boxes, Fuzzy Sets, and Other Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions

Clouds, p-boxes, Fuzzy Sets, and Other Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
Acta Cybernetica 19 (2009) 61–92.
Clouds, p-boxes, Fuzzy Sets, and Other Uncertainty
Representations in Higher Dimensions
Martin Fuchs∗
Uncertainty modeling in real-life applications comprises some serious problems such as the curse of dimensionality and a lack of sufficient amount of
statistical data.
In this paper we give a survey of methods for uncertainty handling and
elaborate the latest progress towards real-life applications with respect to the
problems that come with it. We compare different methods and highlight
their relationships. We introduce intuitively the concept of potential clouds,
our latest approach which successfully copes with both higher dimensions and
incomplete information.
Keywords: uncertainty models, potential clouds, confidence regions, higher
dimensions, incomplete information, reliability methods, p-boxes, DempsterShafer theory, fuzzy sets
Among the major problems in real-life applications of uncertainty representations
we have identified two particularly complicated ones. One concerns the dimensionality issue. High-dimensionality can cause computations to become very expensive,
with an effort growing exponentially with the dimension in many cases. This phenomenon is famous as the curse of dimensionality [45]. Even given the full knowledge about a joint distribution the numerical computation of error probabilities
may be very time consuming, if not impossible. Moreover, rigorous computation
or (preferably tight) bounding of failure probabilities can only be done in very few
cases because the space of possible scenarios is too large. In higher dimensions
full probabilistic models need to estimate high-dimensional distributions for which
rarely sufficient data are available. Frequently it is just the other way around, i.e.,
statistical data are scarce. This leads to the second issue which is incomplete, imprecise, or subjective information. Thus we can formulate our ultimate question
for discussing an uncertainty method: How does the quality of the method respond
∗ University of Vienna, Faculty of Mathematics, Nordbergstr. 15, 1090 Wien, Austria, E-mail:
[email protected],
Martin Fuchs
to a lack of information and to the dimensionality of the problem to solve?
The dimension of a problem is determined by the number of uncertain variables
involved. In some real-life design problems the dimension is low (say, smaller than
about 5). In many problems, however, the dimension is significantly higher.
We will see that many methods exist for uncertainty modeling. Depending on
the uncertainty information available one identifies the problem class and applies a
suitable method for that class. It is just like choosing the appropriate tool from a
toolbox. This point of view can be described as a toolbox philosophy [74]. This
strategy to solve a problem is defined by the problem itself and the characteristics
of the uncertainties involved. Thus different approaches to uncertainty modeling do
not contradict each other, but rather constitute a mutually complementing framework.
The most general point of view describing scarce, vague, incomplete, or conflicting uncertainty information are imprecise probabilities [95]. This approach
alludes to existing uncertainty models being not sufficiently general to handle all
kinds of uncertainty, and it encourages to develop a unified formulation [97], opposed to the toolbox philosophy. Thus it rather aims at unification on a theoretical
basis, whereas our focus is on applicability in real-life reliable engineering.
Uncertainty models in engineering applications are typically employed in the
context of design optimization. An uncertainty method should enable to conduct
a safety analysis for a given design and to weave this analysis into an optimization
problem formulation as safety constraints towards finding a robust, optimal design
This paper presents a survey of conventional and modern approaches to uncertainty handling. For each method, the notation, the type of input information, and
the basic concepts will be introduced. We will discuss the necessary assumptions,
the rigor of results, and the sensitivity of the results to a lack of information. Typically, the more general a method is, the more expensive it becomes computationally,
so we will also comment on computational effort, especially in higher dimensions.
Eventually, we will highlight relationships between the presented methods and possible embedding in design optimization problems.
We start with a section on the basic principles used in uncertainty handling.
Then we present the several different approaches to uncertainty handling: reliability
methods, p-boxes, Bayesian methods, Dempster-Shafer theory, fuzzy sets, convex
methods, and potential clouds. By means of the potential clouds formalism we
present a reliable and tractable worst-case analysis for the given high-dimensional
information. This approach enables to determine a nested collection of confidence
regions parameterized by the confidence level α, and has already been successfully applied to real-life engineering problems [31], [73] in 34 and 24 dimensions,
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
Basic principles
Throughout this study we assume familiarity with the basic principles of probability
theory. In this section we introduce the notation and fundamental concepts which
are the basis for classical methods of uncertainty modeling and of many modern
methods as well.
We denote the sample space by Ω, an n-dimensional random vector by
ε : Ω → Rn . A random variable is a 1-dimensional random vector which we
denote by X. We denote the probability of the statement given as argument by
Pr. We denote the expectation of a random vector ε by hεi. We abbreviate the
terms probability density function by PDF, and cumulative distribution
function by CDF, respectively.
Reliability and failure
To employ uncertainty methods in design safety problems, we need to define failure
probabilities pf and reliability R. The failure probability of a fixed design is
the probability that the random vector ε lies in a set F of scenarios which lead
to design failure. The reliability is the probability that the design will perform
satisfactorily, i.e.,
R := Pr(ε 6∈ F) = 1 − Pr(ε ∈ F) = 1 − pf ,
so determining R and pf are equivalent problems. A third important notion is that
of a confidence region for ε. A set Cα is a confidence region for the confidence
level α if
Pr(ε ∈ Cα ) = α.
The relation between confidence regions and failure probabilities can be seen as
follows. Assume that we have determined a confidence region Cα for the random
vector ε, and Cα does not contain a scenario which leads to design failure, i.e.,
Cα ∩ F = ∅. Then Pr(Cα ∪ F) = Pr(Cα ) + Pr(F) ≤ 1. Hence pf = Pr(F) ≤
1 − Pr(Cα ) = 1 − α, the failure probability is at most 1 − α. For the reliability
R = 1 − pf we get R ≥ α.
Incomplete Information
To make use of probabilistic concepts one often assumes that for the random vector ε involved the joint distribution F is precisely known, provided by an objective
source of information. In many design problems, the sources of information are
merely subjective, provided by expert knowledge. Additionally, in higher dimensions joint distributions are rarely available, and the typically available distribution
information consists of certain marginal distributions.
Often one simply fixes the CDF as normally distributed, arguing with the central
limit theorem: a sufficiently large amount of statistical sample data justifies the
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normal distribution assumption. The critical question is, what is sufficiently large
in higher dimensions? The generalized Chebyshev inequality (3) gives rigorous
bounds for the failure probability pf = Pr(F), in case that F(r) = {ε | ||ε||2 ≥ r},
r a constant radius. If the components of ε = (ε1 , . . . , εn ) are uncorrelated, have
mean 0 and variance 1, we get from [72]
pf = Pr(F) ≤ min(1,
and this bound can be attained.
n = 10
n = 100
Figure 1: Failure probability pf for the failure set F(r) in different dimensions n,
bounded from above by the Chebyshev inequality (solid line) and computed from
a normal distribution (dashed line), respectively.
The failure probability bounds from (3) differ significantly from those of a normal distribution as shown in Figure 1. If we assume a multivariate normal distribution for ε, uncorrelated is equivalent to independent. The bounds for normal
distribution assumption can then be computed from the χ2 (n) distribution (i.e.,
a χ2 distribution with n degrees of freedom). We see that the normal distribution assumption can be much too optimistic compared with the optimal worst-case
bounds from (3).
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
An alternative justification of the normal distribution assumption is the maximum entropy principle, if the available information consists of mean and standard deviation only. The principle of maximum entropy originates from information
theory [87], and is utilized in many fields of applications, cf., e.g., [34].
The intuitive meaning of entropy is: the larger the entropy the less information
(relative to the uniformly distributed improper prior) is reflected in the probability
measure with density ρ. In order to define a probability measure given incomplete information, the principle of maximum entropy consists in maximizing the
entropy subject to constraints imposed by the information available. For example,
in the case of given mean and standard deviation this ansatz leads to a normal
distribution, in case of given interval information it leads to a uniform distribution
assumption. Note that as soon as we employ the maximum entropy distribution as
a probability measure we pretend to have more information than actually available.
Hence critical underestimation of failure probabilities may show up.
Figure 2: Small deviation in a distribution parameter (here 20% difference in the
standard deviation of two normal distributions) can lead to critical underestimation
of pf for a random variable X. Here pf is underestimated by the factor 2, if the
design failure set was F = {X | X ≤ −2}.
In a nutshell, the concept of random variables and probability spaces enables one
to derive rigorous statements about failure probabilities and reliability. But they
require the probability measure to be precisely known. Otherwise, tails of CDFs
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can be critically underestimated, so the estimation of failure probabilities becomes
quite poor. In [18] one can find a demonstration that straightforward probabilistic
computations are highly sensitive to imprecise information. Imagine a CDF is
known almost precisely, but with a small deviation in some distribution parameter.
This may easily lead to a situation as shown in Figure 2, which illustrates the fact
that the failure probability is often underestimated (here by the factor 2).
In the univariate case it is simple to overcome problems with lack of information.
One can apply Kolmogorov-Smirnov (KS) statistics as a powerful tool. Assume that
the uncertainty information is given by empirical data on a random variable X, e.g.,
a small set of sample points x1 , . . . , xN . The empirical distribution Fe is defined
X 1
Fe(ξ) :=
{j|xj ≤ξ}
The KS test uses D := max |Fe − F |, the maximum
deviation of Fe from F , as its
test statistics, and it can be shown that N D converges in distribution to the
Kolmogorov function
φ(λ) :=
(−1)k e−2k
for N → ∞, cf. [46]. Conversely, if we choose a fixed confidence level α, we can
compute D from
φ−1 (α)
N + 0.12 +
cf. [81], and thus find a maximum deviation of the unknown F from the known Fe.
That means that we have non-parametric bounds [Fe − D, Fe + D] enclosing F with
confidence α, only given the knowledge of x1 , . . . , xN .
In case of high-dimensional random vectors, classical probability theory has no
means to cope with scarce data as in the univariate case with KS bounds. Although
multivariate CDFs can be defined as in the 1D case using the componentwise partial order in Rn , the computational effort for obtaining higher dimensional PDFs
and their numerical integration prohibit the reliable use of standard probabilistic
methods in higher dimensions.
Safety margins
A simple and widely spread non-probabilistic uncertainty model is based on socalled safety margins. This model is applied when very little information is
available, in situations where most information is provided as interval information.
There are different kinds of sources for interval information, e.g., measurement
accuracy. Safety margins are a special kind of interval information, namely one
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
which is provided subjectively by an expert designer, as typically the case in early
design phases. If additional information is available, like marginal distributions or
safety margins from further experts, the safety margins approach cannot handle it
and thus loses some valuable information. Since safety margins are highly subjective
information one cannot expect rigorous results for the safety analysis. However,
engineers hope to achieve reasonably conservative bounds by using conservative
The first approach – a tool to handle all kinds of interval information – is
interval analysis, cf. [64], [70]. We write X ∈ [a, b] for a ≤ X ≤ b in the
univariate case; in the higher dimensional case ε = (ε1 , . . . , εn ), we define interval
information ε ∈ [a, b] pointwise via a1 ≤ ε1 ≤ b1 , . . . , an ≤ εn ≤ bn , and call [a, b] a
box. We always interpret equalities and inequalities of vectors componentwise. In
the following we present two frequent approaches to handle the incoming interval
Assume that the cost or gain (or another assessment) function s : M ⊆ Rn →
R , with design space M, models the response function of the design, and the
information about the uncertain input vector ε is given by the bounds ε ∈ [a, b] ⊆
M. By way of interval calculations one achieves bounds componentwise on s(ε) –
also called an interval extension of s.
Computing an interval extension is often affected by overestimation. A variable
εi ∈ [ai , bi ] should take the same value from the interval [ai , bi ] each time it occurs
in an expression in the computation of s. However, this is not considered by
straightforward interval calculations, so the range is computed as if each time the
variable εi occurs it can take a different value from [ai , bi ], leading to an enclosure
which may be much wider than the range for f (ε). One possible way out is based on
Taylor series, cf. [55]. Nonlinear interval computations in higher dimensions may
become expensive, growing exponentially with n, but can often be done efficiently
and complemented by simulation techniques or sensitivity analysis, as we will see
later. Note that in case that s is given as a black box evaluation routine – as in
many real-life applications – the interval extension cannot be determined rigorously
anyway. Also interval methods are often not applicable as a toolbox, but require
problem specific expert knowledge to overcome overestimation issues.
In the literature we find much utilization of interval computations in uncertainty
modeling. Analyzing the statistics for interval valued samples one seeks to bound
mean or variance, which are then also interval valued, cf. [49]: Finding an upper
bound on the variance is NP-hard, a lower bound can be found in quadratic time.
The field of applications of interval uncertainty for uncertainty handling is vast,
e.g., [23], [53], [67], [68], [79].
Also probability theory proper makes use of non-probabilistic interval uncertainty models. For example, consider a Markov chain model with transition matrix
(pij ), where the transition probabilities pij are uncertain, and only given as intervals. Then one can build a generalized Markov chain model, cf. [88], [89]. In
[30] one can find a study of imprecise transition probabilities in Markov decision
The second approach to handle safety margin interval information is a simpli-
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fication of the information by fixing each uncertain variable εi ∈ [ai , bi ] at the
value of one of the safety margins ai or bi , and simply insert this value, for instance
ai for all i, as worst-case scenario to compute the worst-case design response s(a).
The decision where to fix the worst-case scenario is taken merely subjectively or via
a list of relevant cases. A designer may overestimate intentionally the subjective
safety margin assignments, e.g., by adding 20% = 2 · 0.1 to the nominal interval
bounds for a variable, i.e., ε ∈ [a − 0.1(b − a), b + 0.1(b − a)], in order to be suitably
conservative in computing the worst-case design response.
The computational effort with this latter approach is not very high and also
applies well in higher dimensions. Actually, there is no extra effort in addition to
the cost for evaluating s involved in this simple uncertainty model.
A field where safety margins are very popular is multidisciplinary design optimization [1]. In many cases, in particular in early design phases, it is common
engineering practice to combine the assignment of safety margins with an iterative
process of refining or coarsening the margins, while converging to a robust optimal design. The refinement of the intervals is done by experts who assess whether
the worst-case scenario determined for the design at the current stage of the iteration process is too pessimistic or too optimistic. The goal of the whole iteration
includes both optimization of the design and safeguarding against uncertainties.
The achieved design is thus supposed to be robust. This procedure enables a very
dynamic design process and quick interaction between the involved disciplines.
All in all, safety margins allow for a simple, efficient handling of uncertainties,
also in large-scale problems, if no information is available but an interval bounding
from a single source. Otherwise, we have to look for improved methods, which can
handle more uncertainty information. It should be remarked that in most cases,
even in early design stages, there is more information available than assumed for
the safety margin approach.
Safety factors
Remember the concept of failure probabilities as introduced in Section 2.1. The
failure probability was defined as pf = Pr(F), where F was the set of events which
lead to design failure. Let s : Rn → R be the design response of a fixed design for
uncertain inputs ε ∈ Rn . Assume that there is a limit state ℓ for which s(ε) < ℓ
means design failure, and s(ε) ≥ ℓ represents satisfying design performance, i.e.,
that F is defined by
F = {ε | s(ε) < ℓ}.
The idea behind safety factors is to build the design in a way that the expected
value of s(ε) is greater than the limit state ℓ > 0 multiplied by a factor ksafety > 1,
called the safety factor. In other words, a design should fulfill
hs(ε)i ≥ ksafety ℓ.
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
where the expectation has to be suitably estimated. For s(ε) ∈ Rm we interpret
this definition componentwise for each safety requirement on the design responses
s1 , . . . , sm , and ℓ = (ℓ1 , . . . , ℓm ).
Conversely, suppose that we are given a fixed design and hs(ε)i ≥ ℓ, s(ε) ∈ R,
s ∈ C 1 . Define the maximal feasible safety factor as k := hs(ε)i
ℓ . To see the relation
between k and the design failure probability pf we assume that we have fixed an
admissible pf for the fixed design, then pf = Pr(s(ε) ≤ ℓ) = Fs (ℓ). Here Fs is the
CDF of s(ε) with density ρs given by
ρs (x) = ρ(s−1 (x)) · | det s′ (x)|−1 ,
with | det s′ (x)| the absolute value of the determinant of the Jacobian of s. Hence
we get ℓ = Fs−1 (pf ), assuming that Fs is invertible, and
Fs−1 (pf )
As we are applying standard methods from probability theory to compute safety
factors, precise knowledge of ρ and of the limit state function s(ε) − ℓ is required
to achieve rigorous probability statements.
In the lower dimensional case, if ρ is unknown, but a narrow bounding interval
and certain expectations (e.g., means and covariances) for the random vector ε are
known, safety factors can still be well described approximately. The expectation of
smooth functions s of ε is then achievable from the Taylor series for s, cf., e.g., [5],
since expectation is a linear operator on random variables – similar to Taylor models
for interval computations. The problems mentioned in Section 2.2 concerning lack
of information in the higher dimensional case remain.
Probabilistic computation of safety factors is not as much affected by subjective
opinions of the designer as, for example, safety margins. Safety factors are directly
associated with required reliability. One important subjective decision is how to
fix the required reliability or the admissible failure probability, respectively. The
decision can be based, e.g., on the assessment of failure cost or on regulations by
Simulation methods
Simulation methods are ubiquitous tools, and uncertainty handling is one of their
application fields. Simulation means computational generation of sample points as
realizations of a random vector ε, assuming that the joint CDF, marginal CDFs,
or interval bounds are given. Thus the not necessarily probabilistic uncertainties
involved are simulated, which gives rise to the term simulation methods. Simulation
methods are also referred to via the terms random sampling or Monte Carlo
After sample generation, the design response s : M → Rm is evaluated for each
generated sample point. If all or at least a reasonable majority of the points meet
the safety requirements s(ε) ≥ ℓ, the design is considered to be safe.
Martin Fuchs
The core part of simulation is the sample generation. There is a large number
of different techniques addressing it. Three classical variants are based on CDF
inversion, Markov chains, and Latin hypercube sampling, respectively. CDF inversion requires the CDF to be invertible, and is particularly not applicable in higher
dimensions. The Markov chain method constructs a reversible Markov chain using
the Metropolis approach [58], or the more general Hastings method [36], by way of
a rejection method. The rejection rule assures that it is not necessary to compute
pi (i.e., the stationary probability of the state i), but only the easy-to-compute quop
tient pji of two different states which is independent of the dimension of Xn . This
makes the method highly attractive in higher dimensions. The Latin hypercube
sampling (LHS) method [57], first determines a finite grid of size N n , where N is
the desired number of sample points and n is the dimension of the random vector
for which we want to generate a sample. The grid is preferably constructed such
that the intervals between adjacent marginal grid points have the same marginal
probability. The N sample points x1 , x2 , . . . , xN , xi = (x1i , . . . , xni ) ∈ Rn are then
placed to satisfy the Latin hypercube requirement,
For i, k ∈ {1, . . . , N }, j ∈ {1, . . . , n} : xji 6= xjk if k 6= i.
This procedure introduces some preference for a simple structure, i.e., we disregard
correlations, tacitly assuming independence. The advantage of the method is that
the full range of ε is much better covered than with a Markov chain based method,
giving deeper insight to the distribution tails of ε. Hence failure probabilities can
be better estimated. Moreover, one does not require more sample points for higher
n, so the application of LHS in higher dimensions is still attractive.
Often importance sampling is used to speed up simulation techniques by a
reduction of the number of required simulations, e.g., [37], [44], [92]. The sample
points are generated from a different distribution than the actual distribution of
the involved random variables. The sampling density is weighted by an importance
density, e.g., a normal distribution with standard deviation σ depending on where
the most probable failure points are expected, for instance, depending on the curvature of s. Thus the generated sample is more likely to cover the ’important’ regions
for the safety analysis.
Considering the rigor of the results one should be aware of the fact that no estimation of failure probabilities computed from a simulation technique is a rigorous
bound. These methods are based on the law of large numbers, and their results
are only valid for a sufficient amount of sample points. It is difficult to assess
what ’sufficient amount’ means in a higher dimensional space; one might need to
generate an excessively large number of sample points for estimating very small
failure probabilities. That is why simulation methods are endangered to critically
underestimate CDF tails [20]. It gets particularly dangerous when the CDFs to
sample from are unknown.
On the other hand, simulation methods are computationally very efficient, they
can be parallelized [51], and also apply well in higher dimensions, where almost no
alternatives exist at present.
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
Another important aspect comes with black box response functions s. They
principally impose no additional difficulties applying simulation methods. However,
if the computational cost for evaluating s is very high, problems will arise as simulation typically requires many evaluations, hence is limited to simple models for s,
often surrogate functions (cf., e.g., [17], [39]) for more complex models.
As mentioned earlier simulation techniques have many applications, e.g., the
computation of multi-dimensional integrals. They are related to many uncertainty
methods, also non-probabilistic ones like interval uncertainty.
Sensitivity Analysis
Sensitivity analysis is actually not an independent uncertainty method itself, it
rather applies in several different fields one of which is uncertainty handling. Sensitivity analysis investigates the variability of a model function output f (ε), f :
Rn → R, ε = (ε1 , ε2 , . . . , εn )T , with respect to changes in the input variables εi .
To this end one can follow different approaches, e.g., investigate the partial
derivatives of f if they are available, using ∂ε
i as an indicator for the influence
of εi on f . One can also vary a subset of all single input variables εi of f while
keeping all other inputs constant. Then one assesses the impact of this subset by
the variability of the output f by means of some uncertainty methods introduced
in this paper, e.g., fuzzy set or simulation methods. Thus one hopes to achieve a
dimensionality reduction of f fixing those input variables which turn out to have
little influence on f . Frequently, e.g., [50], one assumes monotonicity of f and
interval uncertainty of ε, since this enables the use of very fast techniques in higher
dimensions, the effort is then growing only linearly in the dimension n.
As a particular case of handling interval uncertainties in high dimensions with
computationally expensive black box response functions s we mention the Cauchy
distribution based simulation for interval uncertainty [51]: Assuming that the intervals are reasonably small, e.g., given as measurement errors, it is reasonable to
assume that s is linear. Generate N independent sample points for the measurement errors from the scaled Cauchy(0, 1) distribution, which is easy as the inverse
CDF of a Cauchy(0, 1) distribution is known explicitly in this case. Linear functions
of Cauchy distributed variables are again Cauchy distributed [98], with an unknown
parameter Θ. Having estimated the parameter Θ, e.g., by means of a maximum
likelihood estimator, one can infer probabilistic statements about errors in s which
are Cauchy(0, Θ) distributed. Thus this method exploits the characteristics of a
Cauchy distribution to produce results the accuracy of which can be investigated
statistically depending on N , also for low N in case of expensive s. No derivatives
are required, only N black box evaluations of s.
Applications of sensitivity analysis can be found, e.g., in [77], [80].
Martin Fuchs
Reliability methods
Reliability methods are a very popular approach based on the concepts of reliability
and failure probability and transformation to standard normal space, cf. [83].
They represent a significant improvement in computational modeling of reliability
compared to rather old-fashioned methods like safety factors.
In order to investigate the failure probability pf given the joint CDF F , or at
least marginal CDFs, of the involved random vector ε, one first applies a coordinate
transformation u = T (ε) to standard normal space, cf. [69], [84]. Then the failure
surface F = {s(ε) < ℓ} is approximated and embedded in an optimization problem
to estimate pf .
Once a T is found the new coordinates u live in standard normal space, that
means the level sets of the density of u are {u | ||u||2 = const}, due to the shape
of the multivariate normal distribution. Let s(u) be the design response in the
transformed coordinates. Then the most probable failure point u∗ from the failure
set F = {u | s(u) < ℓ} is the solution of
min ||u||2
s.t. s(u) < ℓ
i.e., the point from F with minimal 2-Norm. This critical point is called β-point,
pf ≈ Φ(−β)
approximates the failure probability, where β = ||u∗ ||2 and Φ denotes the CDF of
the univariate N (0, 1) distribution.
Thus we have reduced the estimation of pf to the standard problem of finding
T and the remaining problem of solving the optimization problem (12). The latter is a nonlinear optimization problem with all the problems that come with it.
Even if the limit state function is convex, after transformation it may become a
strongly non convex problem in case that the CDF F significantly differs from a
normal distribution. Using a linear approximation of the limit state function in the
computation of β is called first order reliability method (FORM), a quadratic
approximation is called second order reliability method (SORM).
One hopes that a unique solution for β exists; however in general, there is usually
no guaranteed global and unique solution for this optimization problem. Another
problem about this approach is that the β-point found may not be representative
for the failure probability. A discussion on the involved optimization problem can
be studied in [14], investigating difficulties like multiple β-points. The entailed
difficulties require some caveats assessing the results of reliability methods: the
methods may fail to estimate pf correctly without warning the user. Especially
when additional problems appear – like higher dimensionality or black box response
functions s – the reliability methods become less attractive in many large-scale reallife situations. It should be remarked that the search for u∗ can be supported by
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
sampling and simulation techniques like importance sampling, cf. Section 2.5, as
means for corrections and reduction of the computational effort, e.g., [56].
Reliability methods are associated with design optimization within the field
of reliability based design optimization (RBDO). Instead of the often occurring
bilevel problem formulation (i.e., design optimization in the outer level, worst-case
scenario search in the inner level) one formulates a one level problem as follows,
cf. [43], [65]. Let sT = sT (θ, u) = s(θ, T (ε)), the design response in transformed
coordinates, with the controllable design vector θ which fully specifies the design.
Let g(θ) be the objective function, e.g., the cost of the design or the cost of failure.
One seeks to minimize g subject to some reliability constraint pf ≤ pa where
pf = Pr(s(θ, u) < ℓ) is approximated by equation (13), and pa the fixed admissible
failure probability. We get
min g(θ)
s.t. Φ(−β) ≤ pa
where T is the set of possible design choices. For s(ε) ∈ Rm we have several
constraints Φ(−βi ) ≤ pa , i = 1, . . . , m.
Usually simulation techniques are employed to solve (14), e.g., [85]. In [78] it is
suggested to use Monte Carlo methods to check the probabilistic constraints, and
to train a neural network to check the deterministic constraints, or even both probabilistic and deterministic. This can be implemented as parallelized computations
which improves computation time significantly. In any case, one should be aware
that one uses a soft solution technique on top of a soft uncertainty model.
A p-box – or p-bound, or probability bound – is an enclosure of the CDF of a
univariate random variable X, Fl ≤ F ≤ Fu , in case of partial ignorance about
specifications of F . Such an enclosure enables, e.g., to compute lower and upper
bounds on expectation values or failure probabilities.
There are different ways to construct a p-box depending on the available information about X, cf. [22]. For example, assume that we have empirical data for X.
Then we can construct a p-box with KS statistics, cf. (6), after fixing a confidence
level α. In [25] we find an exhaustive description which construction techniques
can be applied to construct a p-box, related to the type of available information.
Moreover, it is illustrated how to construct p-boxes from different uncertainty models like Dempster-Shafer structures (cf. Section 6) or Bayesian update estimates
(cf. Section 5). The studies on p-boxes have already lead to successful software
implementations, cf. [6], [21].
Higher order moment information on X (e.g., correlation bounds) cannot be
handled or processed yet. This is a current research field, cf., e.g., [24].
Martin Fuchs
To compute functions f of p-boxes, that means we have a p-box for ε1 , . . . , εn
and seek a p-box for f = f (ε1 , . . . , εn ), one first regards f consisting of elementary
arithmetical operations and finds bounds for these expressions. To this end one discretizes the bounds for ε1 , . . . , εn towards a discretization of the bounds for f , and
then finds an expression for the bound of f in terms of the bounds for ε1 , . . . , εn .
This can be done for all elementary arithmetic operations, without independence
assumption for ε1 , . . . , εn , cf. [99], [100]. Thus the research on arithmetics for random variables actually builds the foundation of p-boxes. The dependency problem
is not trivial, assume that one has independent random variables X, Y, Z, then the
variables S = X + Y and T = Y · Z are not independent in general.
One learns that the problem of rigorously quantifying probabilities given incomplete information – as done with probability arithmetic and p-boxes – is highly
complex, even for simple problems, e.g., [52]. Due to their constructions the methods are rather restricted to lower dimensions and non-complex models f . Black
box functions f cannot be handled as one requires knowledge about the involved
arithmetic operations. All in all, they often appear not to be reasonably applicable
in many real-life situations. On the other hand, as soon as we can apply methods
like p-boxes to calculate with bounds on probability distributions, we are not restricted to the use of selecting less rigorous single distribution assumptions (e.g.,
maximum entropy) anymore.
Two more remarks about p-boxes: First, the definition of p-boxes can be generalized to higher dimensions based on the definition of higher dimensional CDFs,
cf. [15]. However, this has not lead to practical results yet. Second, probability
arithmetic can be regarded as a generalization of interval arithmetic which would
be the special case given only the information X ∈ [a, b]. It is also related to the
world of imprecise probabilities via sets of measures. From a p-box [Fl , FuR] for X
one can infer bounds
R on the expectation for f (X) by hf il = inf Fl ≤F ≤Fu Ω f dF ,
hf iu = supFl ≤F ≤Fu Ω f dF , regarding Fl ≤ F ≤ Fu as a set of measures, e.g., [47],
[96]. The bounds can be computed numerically by discretization and formulation
of a linear programming problem (LP), cf. [93].
Bayesian inference
As soon as incomplete information is based on subjective knowledge and can be
updated iteratively by additional information, one can consider using Bayesian
inference to handle uncertainties. Bayesian inference means reasoning on the basis
of Bayes’ rule, working with conditional probabilities.
Here we have the crucial problem, how to select a suitable prior distribution. For
a reasonable choice real statistical data is needed in sufficient amount. Additionally,
of course, incoming new observations are required for updating. Priors can be
chosen, e.g., with the maximal entropy principle, cf. Section 2.2. In practice one
often chooses a normal distribution to simplify calculations, or conjugate priors,
i.e., a distribution where the posterior has a similar shape like the prior except
from a change in some parameters. Actually, it is a well-known criticism that the
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
choice of the prior often seems to be quite arbitrary and merely in the will of the
A typically employed model in Bayesian inference is a so-called Bayesian or belief
network (BN). A BN is a directed acyclic graph (DAG) between states of a system
and observables. A node N and its parent nodes in the DAG represent the input
information of the network which consists of tables of conditional probabilities of N
conditional on its parent nodes. The whole DAG represents the joint distribution of
all involved variables, even in higher dimensional situations. Computations using
BNs can be done efficiently on the DAG structure, assumed that all conditional
probabilities are precisely known.
What if the conditional PDFs of the tables of conditional probabilities in BNs
are unknown or not precisely known? This happens frequently in practice, in particular for variables conditional on multiple further variables. The Bayesian approach
appears to become useless in this case. A generalized approach to BNs with imprecise probabilities can be studied on the basis of so-called credal networks,
e.g., [11], [35]. A credal network is a set of BNs with the same DAG structure,
but imprecise values in the conditional probability tables. The probabilities can be
given as intervals, or more generally described.
The Bayesian approach applies in design optimization, cf. [103]. Similar to
RBDO (14) one minimizes a certain objective like design cost subject to probabilistic constraints involving the failure distribution. The associated joint distribution
is estimated and updated from available data, starting with conjugate priors.
Dempster-Shafer theory
Dempster-Shafer theory enables to process incomplete uncertainty information allowing to compute bounds for failure probabilities and reliability.
We start with defining fuzzy measures, cf. [90]. A fuzzy measure µ
e : 2Ω →
[0, 1], fulfills
e(∅) = 0, µ
e(Ω) = 1,
e(A) ≤ µ
The main difference to a probability measure is the absence of additivity. Instead,
fuzzy measures only satisfy monotonicity (16). To find lower and upper bounds
for an unknown probability measure given incomplete information one seeks two
fuzzy measures belief Bel and plausibility Pl, where Bel is a fuzzy measure with
Bel(A ∪ B) ≥ Bel(A) + Bel(B) − Bel(A ∩ B), and Pl is a fuzzy measure with
Pl(A ∪ B) ≤ Pl(A) + Pl(B) − Pl(A ∩ B).
To construct the measures Bel and Pl from the given uncertainty information
one formalizes the information as a so-called basic probability assignment m :
2Ω → [0, 1] on a finite set A ⊆ 2Ω of non-empty subsets A of Ω, such that
> 0 if A ∈ A,
= 0 otherwise,
Martin Fuchs
and the normalization condition
A∈A m(A) = 1. Sometimes m is also called
basic belief assignment.
The basic probability assignment m is interpreted as the exact belief focussed
on A, and not in any strict subset of A. The sets A ∈ A are called focal sets. The
structure (m, A), i.e., a basic probability assignment together with the related set
of focal sets, is called a Dempster-Shafer structure (DS structure).
Given a DS structure (m, A) we can construct Bel and Pl by
Bel(B) =
Pl(B) =
for B ∈ 2Ω .
Thus Bel and Pl have the sought property Bel ≤ Pr ≤ Pl by construction and,
moreover, satisfy Bel(B) = 1 − Pl(B c ). The information contained in the two
measures Bel and Pl induced by the DS structure is often called a random set.
In the classical case the additivity of non-fuzzy measures would yield Pl(B) =
1 − Pl(B c ) = Bel. Thus Bel = Pr = Pl and classical probability theory becomes a
special case of DS theory. Also note that if we have a DS structure on the singletons
of a finite Ω, then we have full stochastic knowledge equivalent to a CDF.
DS structures can be obtained from expert knowledge or in lower dimensions
from histograms, or from the Chebyshev inequality Pr(|X − µ| ≤ r) > 1 − σr2 given
expectation value µ and variance σ 2 of a random variable X, cf. [75], [76], [77]:
for a fixed confidence level α, then Pr({|X − µ| ≤ √1−α
}) > α. The
Let r = √1−α
sets Cα := {ω ∈ Ω | |X(ω) − µ| ≤ √1−α } for different values of α define focal sets,
and we get Belief and Plausibility measures by Bel(Cα ) = α and Pl(Cαc ) = 1 − α,
To extend one-dimensional focal sets to the multi-dimensional case one can generate joint DS structures from the Cartesian product of marginal basic probability
assignments assuming random set independence, cf. [10], or from weighting the 1dimensional marginal focal sets, cf. [27]. In [103] we find the suggestion to employ
Bayesian techniques to estimate and update DS structures from little amount of
To combine different, or even conflicting DS structures (m1 , A1 ), (m2 , A2 ) (in
case of multiple bodies of evidence, e.g., several different expert opinions) to a new
basic probability assignment mnew one uses Dempster’s rule of combination [12],
forming the basis of Dempster-Shafer theory or evidence theory [86],
mnew (B) =
{A1 ∈A1 ,A2 ∈A2 |A1 ∩A2 =B}
with the normalization constant K = 1 −
which is interpreted as the conflict.
m1 (A1 )m2 (A2 )
{A1 ∈A1 ,A2 ∈A2 |A1 ∩A2 =∅}
m1 (A1 )m2 (A2 )
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
The combination rule enables to compute a joint DS structure. Also note that
the combination rule is a generalization of Bayes’ rule, motivated by the criticism
that a single probability assignment cannot model the amount of evidence one has.
The complexity of the rule is strongly increasing in higher dimensions, and
in many cases requires independence assumptions for simplicity reasons avoiding
problems with interacting variables. It is not yet understood how the dimensionality
issue can be solved. Working towards more efficient computational implementations
of evidence theory it can be attempted to decompose the high-dimensional case in
lower dimensional components which leads to so-called compositional models, cf.
The extension of a function f is based on the joint DS structure (m, A). The
new focal sets of the extension
P are Bi = f (Ai ), Ai ∈ A, the new basic probability
assignment is mnew (Bi ) = {Ai ∈A|f (Ai )=Bi } m(Ai ).
To embed DS theory in design optimization one formulates a constraint on
the upper bound of the failure probability pf which should be smaller than an
admissible failure probability pa , i.e., Pl(F) ≤ pa , for the failure set F. This can be
studied in [66] as evidence based design optimization (EBDO). One can also find
further direct applications in engineering computing, e.g., in [29], [75].
DS structures enable to construct p-boxes [7], [15], [93], i.e., to determine lower
bounds Fl and upper bounds Fu of the CDF of a random variable X,
Fl (t) = Bel({ω ∈ Ω | X(ω) ≤ t}),
Fu (t) = Pl({ω ∈ Ω | X(ω) ≤ t}).
Conversely it is possible to generate a DS structure that approximates a given pbox discretely, cf. [2], [13], [25]. Fix some levels α1 ≤ α2 ≤ · · · ≤ αN = 1 of the
p-box, then generate focal sets by
Ai := [inf{x | Fu (x) = αi }, inf{x | Fl (x) = αi }],
m(A1 ) = α1 , m(Ai ) = αi − αi−1 , i = 2, . . . , N.
Another relation to a different uncertainty representation concerns nested focal
sets, i.e., A = {A1 , A2 , . . . , Am }, A1 ⊆ A2 ⊆ · · · ⊆ Am . In this case
Bel(A ∩ B) = min(Bel(A), Bel(B)),
Pl(A ∪ B) = max(Pl(A), Pl(B)).
For nested focal sets the fuzzy measures Bel and Pl directly correspond to possibility
and necessity measures, respectively, which appear in fuzzy set theory, cf. [16], as
we will see in the next section.
We have learned that DS structures can unify several different uncertainty models, see, e.g., [48], but cannot overcome the curse of dimensionality being prohibitively expensive in higher dimensions.
Martin Fuchs
Fuzzy sets
The development of fuzzy sets has started roughly in parallel to the development
of DS theory with the goal to model vague verbal descriptions in absence of any
statistical data. It is a generalization of conventional set theory redefining the
characteristic function of a set A by a so-called membership function µA . The
value µA (x) indicates the membership value of an uncertain variable x with respect
to A. The value can be any real number between 0 and 1 as opposed to the
characteristic function 1A (x) which only takes binary values. A fuzzy set is a set
A together with its related membership function µA .
This section will give a short overview on fuzzy sets, focussing on their application for uncertainty handling. The following terms play an important role in the
theory of fuzzy sets. The height h of a fuzzy set is defined by h := maxx µA (x).
The support of a fuzzy set is the set {x | µA (x) 6= 0}. The core or modal values
of a fuzzy set is the set {x | µA (x) = 1}. The α-cut Cα of a fuzzy set for a fixed
value α ∈ [0, 1] is the set
Cα := {x | µA (x) ≥ α}.
The α-cut is determined by the values of the membership function. Conversely one
can construct µA from the knowledge of the α-cuts, cf. [102], to achieve an α-cut
based representation of a fuzzy set:
µA (x) = sup min(α, 1Cα (x)).
Note the relationship between BPA-structures on nested focal sets, cf. Section 6,
and α-cuts of a fuzzy set with non-empty core, which are nested by definition,
i.e., Cα ⊆ Cβ for α ≥ β. Let 1 = α1 ≥ α2 ≥ · · · ≥ αN = 0 be α-levels of
a fuzzy set, then we can construct a BPA m on the α-cuts Cαi by m(Cαi ) =
αi − αi+1 , i < N , m(CαN ) = αN . Conversely a BPA-structure on nested focal sets
A1 ⊆ A2 ⊆ · · · ⊆ AN allows to construct a fuzzy set by αN = m(AN ), CαN =
AN , αN −1 = m(AN ) + m(AN −1 ), CαN −1 = AN −1 , . . . , α1 = i=1 m(Ai ) = 1,
Cα1 = A1 , and then applying (25). Thus it is possible to convert expert knowledge
modeled by a fuzzy set into a DS structure. Using the Dempster’s rule, however,
to combine different bodies of evidence in general leads to non-nested focal sets,
hence a conversion back to the fuzzy set formalism is not possible after applying a
combination rule.
Some special cases of fuzzy sets motivated the notation of fuzzy intervals and
fuzzy numbers, cf. [101]. A fuzzy interval or convex fuzzy set is a fuzzy set
with µA (x) ≥ min(µA (a), µA (b)) for all a, b, x ∈ [a, b]. A fuzzy number is a fuzzy
interval with closed α-cuts, compact support, and a unique modal value.
The definition of a fuzzy set and its membership function in higher dimensions
is a straightforward generalization of the one-dimensional case. The extension of
a function f (x) = z, f : Rn → R, for a fuzzy set with membership function µ is
constructed by the extension principle for a new membership function
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
µnew (z) =
x∈f −1 (z)
cf. [101]. The construction involves an optimization problem with rapidly increasing complexity in higher dimensions.
It can be attempted to solve this problem by reduction of the problem to the
α-cuts of the fuzzy set, cf. Section 7.1, or by sensitivity analysis, cf. Section 2.6.
Except from the dimensionality issue another criticism of fuzzy sets is the fact
that the assignment of membership functions appears to be quite arbitrary, often
defined by a single expert opinion. In lower dimensions membership functions
can be estimated, e.g., from histograms, but there is no general, statistically wellgrounded basis for the assignment of membership functions. Of course, if only
vague verbal descriptions, i.e., highly informal uncertainty information, is available
statistical properties are entirely absent. In this case, which represents the classical
motivation of fuzzy sets, it can be argued that it is impossible to formulate a general
recipe for processing the information. However, usually the information consists
of a mixture of statistical and fuzzy descriptions, and conventional fuzzy methods
cannot combine both. The concept of fuzzy randomness, cf. [54], [59], [63], [82], is
one attempt of a combination.
The applications of fuzzy methods in engineering computing are vast. A famous application of fuzzy methods is fuzzy control, cf. [91]. Moreover, most design
analyzing methods have their counterparts in the context of fuzzy sets, for instance, fuzzy reliability methods (e.g., [9], [63]), fuzzy differential equations (e.g.,
[28]), fuzzy finite element methods (e.g., [26], [60], [67]), fuzzy ARMA and other
stochastic processes (e.g., [61]).
In fuzzy statistics, i.e., with sample points that are modeled as fuzzy numbers,
one can apply statistical methods on non-precise data, cf. [94].
In design optimization fuzzy methods can be used to find clusters of permissible
designs with fuzzy clustering methods, e.g., [38], [42]. Seeking the optimal design
one can use fuzzy methods to compare different design points of different clusters
with respect to some criterion, e.g., weighted distances from design constraints [3],
[8], [40].
The following subsection presents a special fuzzy set based method which is
highlighted because of its relationship to our approach based on clouds, cf. Section
α-level optimization
The α-level optimization approach [62] is the most relevant fuzzy set based method
for our purposes as it applies also in higher dimensional real-life situations and uses
similar techniques as we will use employing the clouds formalism.
The α-level optimization method combines the α-cut representation (25) and
the extension principle to determine the membership function µf of a function f (ε),
f : Rn → R, given the membership function µ of the variable ε. This is achieved
Martin Fuchs
by constructing the α-cuts Cf αi belonging to µf from the α-cuts Cαi belonging to
µ. To this end one solves the optimization problems
min f (ε),
max f (ε)
for different discrete values αi . Finally from the solution fi∗ of (27) and fi∗ of (28)
one constructs the α-cuts belonging to µf by Cf αi = [fi∗ , fi∗ ].
To simplify the optimization step one assumes sufficiently nice behaving functions f and computationally nice fuzzy sets, i.e., convex fuzzy sets, typically triangular shaped fuzzy numbers.
In n dimensions one optimizes over a hypercuboid, obtained by the Cartesian
product of the α-cuts Cαi = Cα1 i × Cα2 i × · · · × Cαni , where Cαj i := {εj | µj (εj ) ≥
αi }, µj (εj ) := supεk ,k6=j µ(ε), ε = (ε1 , ε2 , . . . , εn ). Here one has to assume noninteractivity of the uncertain variables ε1 , . . . , εn .
Using a discretization of the α-levels by a finite choice of αi the computational
effort for this methods becomes tractable. From (25) one gets a step function for µf
which is usually linearly approximated through the points fi∗ and fi∗ to generate
a triangular fuzzy number.
Convex methods
Convex methods model uncertainty by so-called anti-optimization over convex
sets, cf. [4], [19]. Assume that we wish to find the design point θ = (θ1 , θ2 , . . . , θno )
with the minimal design objective function value g(θ, ε), g : Rno × Rn → R under
uncertainty of the vector of input variables ε. Also assume that the uncertainty of
ε is described by a convex set C. Anti-optimization means finding the worst-case
scenario for a fixed design point θ by the solution of an optimization problem of
the type
max g(θ, ε)
s.t. ε ∈ C
The corresponding design optimization problem would be
min max g(θ, ε)
where T is the set of possible selections for the design θ. As the inner level of
problem (30), i.e., equation (29), maximizes the objective which is sought to be
minimized for the design optimization in the outer level (i.e., one seeks the design
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
with minimal worst-case), the term anti-optimization has been proposed for this
Investigating convex regions for the worst-case search is motivated by the fact
that in many cases the level sets of probability densities are convex sets, e.g.,
ellipsoids for normal distributions. In this respect the term convex uncertainty for
a random vector ε ∈ Rn is characterized by a convex set C = {ε | Q(ε) ≤ c}, where
Q is a quadratic form and ε is known to belong to C with some confidence. The
quadratic form could be, e.g., Q(ε) = (ε − m)T C −1 (ε − m) with a vector of nominal
values m and an estimated covariance matrix C.
Once one has a description by convex uncertainty one can apply optimization
methods which can make convex methods applicable even in higher dimensions.
It should be remarked that this particular idea is one of the inspirations for the
potential clouds concept, see the next section, where the potential function will be
constructed to have convex level sets.
Potential clouds
This section gives an intuitive introduction of uncertainty representation by means
of clouds [71], inspired by and combining ideas from p-boxes, random and fuzzy
sets, convex methods, interval and optimization methods. We will learn in this
section about the natural approach that has lead to use clouds for uncertainty
modeling, handling incomplete information in higher dimensions, and to weave the
methodology into an optimization problem formulation similar to (30).
The goal is to construct confidence regions in which we should be able to search
for worst-case scenarios via optimization techniques. The construction should be
possible on the basis of scarce, high-dimensional data, incomplete information, unformalized knowledge and information updates. As mentioned in previous sections,
in lower dimensions and provided real empirical data one has powerful tools, like
KS, e.g., to bound the CDF of a random variable X. What could one do to tackle
the same problems for higher dimensional random vectors ε ∈ Rn with little or
no information available? To generate data we will first simulate a data set and
modify it with respect to the available uncertainty information. To reduce the dimensionality of the problem we will use a potential function V : Rn → R. We will
bound the CDF of V (ε) using KS as in the one-dimensional case (like a p-box on
V (ε), cf. Section 4). From the bounds on the CDF of V (ε) we get lower and upper
confidence regions for V (ε), and finally lower and upper confidence regions for ε as
level sets of V .
Assume that we have a lower bound α and an upper bound α for the CDF F
of V (ε), α continuous from the left and monotone, α continuous from the right
and monotone. Then we find nested lower and upper confidence regions for ε by:
C α := {x ∈ Rn | V (x) ≤ V α } if V α := min{Vα ∈ R | α(Vα ) = α} exists, and
C α := ∅ otherwise; analogously C α := {x ∈ Rn | V (x) ≤ V α } if V α := max{Vα ∈
R | α(Vα ) = α} exists, and C α := Rn otherwise.
The regions C α and C α are lower and upper confidence regions in the following
Martin Fuchs
sense: the region C α contains at most a fraction of α of all possible values of ε in
Rn , since Pr(ε ∈ C α ) ≤ Pr(α(V (ε)) ≤ α) ≤ Pr(F (V (ε)) ≤ α) = α; analogously C α
contains at least a fraction of α of all possible values of ε in Rn . Generally holds
C α ⊆ C α.
The interval-valued mapping x → [α(V (x)), α(V (x))] is called a potential
Note that potential clouds extend the p-box concept to the multivariate case
without the exponential growth of work in the conventional p-box approach. From
the fact that we construct a p-box on V (ε) one can also see the relation to DS
structures generated from p-boxes as in (21), with Ai = C αi \C αi . Thus the focal sets are determined by the level sets of V . To see an interpretation in terms
of fuzzy sets one may consider C α , C α as α-cuts of a multi-dimensional interval
valued membership function defined by α and α. However, clouds allow for probabilistic statements, so they become a more powerful tool in the estimation of failure
The potential clouds approach not only helps us to overcome the curse of dimensionality in real-life applications, but also it turns out to enable a flexible
uncertainty representation. It can process incomplete knowledge of different kinds
and allows for an adaptive interaction between the uncertainty elicitation and the
optimization phase, reducing the incompleteness of epistemic information via information updating. The adaptive step is realized by a modification of the shape
of V in a graphical user interface. This is a unique feature in higher dimensions.
To illustrate how unformalized knowledge can be provided by clouds assume
that a set of data points is given, but no formal information about the probability
distribution is available, in particular no correlation information. Frequently an
expert still has some knowledge about the dependence between the uncertain variables involved, and he may be able to provide linear constraints as shown in Figure
3. The lower and upper confidence regions constructed with clouds then become
polyhedra, cf. Figure 4. We also see that these regions reasonably approximate the
confidence regions in case that we knew the correlations exactly.
The basic concept of embedding our approach in a design optimization problem
is as follows. The designing expert provides an underlying system model – e.g.,
given as a black box model – and all currently available uncertainty information on
the input variables of the model. The information is processed to generate a cloud
that provides a nested collection of regions of relevant scenarios parameterized by
a confidence level α. Thus we produce safety constraints for the optimization. The
optimization minimizes a certain objective function (e.g., cost, mass) subject to the
safety constraints to account for the robustness of the design, and subject to the
functional constraints which are represented by the system model. The results of
the optimization, i.e., the automatically found optimal design point and the worstcase analysis, are returned to the expert, who is given an interactive possibility
to provide additional uncertainty information afterwards and rerun the procedure.
For further details on the construction of potential clouds and cloud based design
optimization the interested reader is referred to [32] and [33].
Uncertainty Representations in Higher Dimensions
Figure 3: Two random variables ε1 , ε2 with non zero correlation. The linear
constraints model the unformalized knowledge of the expert about the dependence
of the variables.
Figure 4: On the left, plotted with dotted and solid lines respectively, are the
lower and upper confidence regions for α = 50%, 80%, 95% of a 2-dimensional random variable (ε1 , ε2 ) belonging to a polyhedral potential cloud. On the right the
corresponding confidence regions if the correlation was exactly known.
Martin Fuchs
I would like to thank Arnold Neumaier who has significantly contributed to the
creation of this paper with various comments. Also I would like to thank the
anonymous reviewers for their fruitful remarks.
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