Modeling information gathering decisions in systems engineering projects
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Copyright © 2014 by ASME. Decisions in systems engineering projects commonly are made under significant amounts of uncertainty. This uncertainty can exist in many areas such as the performance of subsystems, interactions between subsystems, or project resource requirements such as budget or personnel. System engineers often can choose to gather information that reduces uncertainty, which allows for potentially better decisions, but at the cost of resources expended in acquiring the information. However, our understanding of how to analyze situations involving gathering information is limited, and thus heuristics, intuition, or deadlines are often used to judge the amount of information gathering needed in a decision. System engineers would benefit from a better understanding of how to determine the amount of information gathering needed to support a decision. This paper introduces Partially Observable Markov Decision Processes (POMDPs) as a formalism for modeling information-gathering decisions in systems engineering. A POMDP can model different states, alternatives, outcomes, and probabilities of outcomes to represent a decision maker's beliefs about his situation. It also can represent sequential decisions in a compact format, avoiding the combinatorial explosion of decision trees and similar representations. The solution of a POMDP, in the form of value functions, prescribes the best course of action based on a decision maker's beliefs about his situation. The value functions also determine if more information gathering is needed. Sophisticated computational solvers for POMDPs have been developed in recent years, allowing for a straightforward analysis of different alternatives, and determining the optimal course of action in a given situation. This paper demonstrates using a POMDP to model a systems engineering problem, and compares this approach with other approaches that account for information gathering in decision making.
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