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Decision making under epistemic uncertainty for a complex mechanical system

Urbina, Angel U.; Swiler, Laura P.

This paper explores various frameworks to quantify and propagate sources of epistemic and aleatoric uncertainty within the context of decision making for assessing system performance relative to design margins of a complex mechanical system. If sufficient data is available for characterizing aleatoric-type uncertainties, probabilistic methods are commonly used for computing response distribution statistics based on input probability distribution specifications. Conversely, for epistemic uncertainties, data is generally too sparse to support objective probabilistic input descriptions, leading to either subjective probabilistic descriptions (e.g., assumed priors in Bayesian analysis) or non-probabilistic methods based on interval specifications. Among the techniques examined in this work are (1) Interval analysis, (2) Dempster-Shafer Theory of Evidence, (3) a second-order probability (SOP) analysis in which the aleatory and epistemic variables are treated separately, and a nested iteration is performed, typically sampling epistemic variables on the outer loop, then sampling over aleatory variables on the inner loop and (4) a Bayesian approach where plausible prior distributions describing the epistemic variable are created and updated using available experimental data. This paper compares the results and the information provided by different methods to enable decision making in the context of performance assessment when epistemic uncertainty is considered.