Article: Optimal Uncertainty Quantification

Almost three years on from the initial submission, the article “Optimal Uncertainty Quantification”, jointly written with Houman Owhadi, Clint Scovel, Mike McKerns and Michael Ortiz, is now in print. It will appear in this year’s second-quarter issue of SIAM Review, and is already accessible online for those with SIAM subscriptions; the preprint version can be found at arXiv:1009.0679.

This paper was a real team effort, with everyone bringing different strengths to the table. Given the length of the review process, I think that our corresponding author Houman Owhadi deserves a medal for his patience (as does Ilse Ipsen, the article’s editor at SIAM Review), but, really, congratulations and thanks to all. 🙂

We propose a rigorous framework for Uncertainty Quantification (UQ) in which the UQ objectives and the assumptions/information set are brought to the forefront. This framework, which we call Optimal Uncertainty Quantification (OUQ), is based on the observation that, given a set of assumptions and information about the problem, there exist optimal bounds on uncertainties: these are obtained as values of well-defined optimization problems corresponding to extremizing probabilities of failure, or of deviations, subject to the constraints imposed by the scenarios compatible with the assumptions and information. In particular, this framework does not implicitly impose inappropriate assumptions, nor does it repudiate relevant information. Although OUQ optimization problems are extremely large, we show that under general conditions they have finite-dimensional reductions. As an application, we develop Optimal Concentration Inequalities (OCI) of Hoeffding and McDiarmid type. Surprisingly, these results show that uncertainties in input parameters, which propagate to output uncertainties in the classical sensitivity analysis paradigm, may fail to do so if the transfer functions (or probability distributions) are imperfectly known. We show how, for hierarchical structures, this phenomenon may lead to the non-propagation of uncertainties or information across scales. In addition, a general algorithmic framework is developed for OUQ and is tested on the Caltech surrogate model for hypervelocity impact and on the seismic safety assessment of truss structures, suggesting the feasibility of the framework for important complex systems. The introduction of this paper provides both an overview of the paper and a self-contained mini-tutorial about basic concepts and issues of UQ.

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