The logical foundations of decision-theoretic planning in autonomous agents

Decision-theoretic planning is normally based on the assumption that plans can be compared by comparing their expected-values, and the objective is to find an optimal plan. This is typically defended by reference to classical decision theory. However, classical decision theory is actually incompatible with this “simple plan-based decision theory”. A defense of plan-based decision theory must begin by showing that classical decision theory is incorrect insofar as the two theories conflict, so this paper begins by raising objections to classical decision theory . First, there is a discussion of the considerations arising out of the Newcomb problem that have given rise to causal decision theory. Next, counterexamples are constructed for classical decision theory turning on the fact that an agent may be unable to perform an action, and may even be unable to try to perform an action. A proposal is made for how to repair classical decision theory in light of these counterexamples. But then turning to the concept of an “alternative” that is presupposed by classical decision theory, it is argued that actions must often be chosen in groups rather than individually, i.e., the objects of rational choice are plans. It is argued that optimality cannot be defined for plans, and even if it could be, it would not be reasonable to require rational agents to find optimal plans. So simple plan-based decision theory must also be rejected. An alternative called “locally global planning” is proposed as a replacement for both classical decision theory and simple plan-based decision theory.
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