The “Why Did You Do That?” Button: Answering Why-Questions for End Users of Robotic Systems

Vincent J. Koeman, Louise A. Dennis, Matt Webster, Michael Fisher, Koen Hindriks

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The issue of explainability for autonomous systems is becoming increasingly prominent. Several researchers and organisations have advocated the provision of a “Why did you do that?” button which allows a user to interrogate a robot about its choices and actions. We take previous work on debugging cognitive agent programs and apply it to the question of supplying explanations to end users in the form of answers to why-questions. These previous approaches are based on the generation of a trace of events in the execution of the program and then answering why-questions using the trace. We implemented this framework in the agent infrastructure layer and, in particular, the Gwendolen programming language it supports – extending it in the process to handle the generation of applicable plans and multiple intentions. In order to make the answers to why-questions comprehensible to end users we advocate a two step process in which first a representation of an explanation is created and this is subsequently converted into natural language in a way which abstracts away from some events in the trace and employs application specific predicate dictionaries in order to translate the first-order logic presentation of concepts within the cognitive agent program in natural language. A prototype implementation of these ideas is provided.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEngineering Multi-Agent Systems - 7th International Workshop, EMAS 2019
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-51417-4
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-51416-7
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameLecture Notes in Computer Science


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