Jon Williamson. Bayesian nets and causality: Philosophical and computational foundations

Philosophia Mathematica 15 (3):389-396 (2007)
Abstract
Bayesian networks are computer programs which represent probabilitistic relationships graphically as directed acyclic graphs, and which can use those graphs to reason probabilistically , often at relatively low computational cost. Almost every expert system in the past tried to support probabilistic reasoning, but because of the computational difficulties they took approximating short-cuts, such as those afforded by MYCIN's certainty factors. That all changed with the publication of Judea Pearl's Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems, in 1988, which synthesized a decade of research making accurate graphical probabilistic reasoning computationally achievable.Bayesian network technology is now one of the fastest growing fields of research in artificial intelligence. That it has become a publication industry in its own right is shown by a search on Google scholar :This development, together with a parallel related growth in the use of causal discovery algorithms which automate the learning of Bayesian networks from sample data, has generated considerable interest, and controversy, within the philosophy-of-science community.Three central questions bringing together AI researchers and philosophers of science are: Are Bayesian networks Bayesian? What is the relation between probability and causality? Are the assumptions behind causal discovery of Bayesian networks realistic or fantastical?Jon Williamson, as a philosopher of science with a keen interest in the technology, asks and answers these questions in his new book. Although it is self-contained, his book is not very likely as an introduction to the technology , nor is it optimal even as an introduction to the philosophical problems in interpreting Bayesian networks . Rather Williamson's book is an attempt to move the debate forward by solving the central problems of the …
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