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International Journal on Articial Intelligence Tools Vol. 19, No.

4 (2010) 439464 c World Scientic Publishing Company DOI: 10.1142/S0218213010000273


SARA BOUTOUHAMI and DANIEL KAYSER LIPN UMR 7030 du C.N.R.S. Institut Galile Univ. Paris-Nord, e 93430 Villetaneuse, France boutouhami,

We aim at controlling the biases that exist in every description, in order to give the best possible image of one of the protagonists of an event. Starting from a supposedly complete set of propositions accounting for an event, we develop various argumentative strategies (insinuation, justification, reference to customary norms) to imply the facts that cannot be simply omitted but have the wrong orientation w.r.t. the protagonist we defend. By analyzing these different strategies, a contribution of this work is to provide a number of relevant parameters to take into account in developing and evaluating systems aiming at understanding natural language (NL) argumentations. The source of inspiration for this work is a corpus of 160 texts where each text describes a (different) car accident. Its result, for a given accident, is a set of first-order literals representing the essential facts of a description intended to defend one of the protagonists. An implementation in Answer Set Programming is underway. A couple of examples showing how to extract, from the same starting point, a defense for the two opposite sides are provided. Experimental validation of this work is in progress, and its first results are reported. Keywords: Argumentation; strategies; inference rules; natural language; nonmonotonic reasoning; semi-normal defaults.

1. Introduction 1.1. Motivation No text provides an exhaustive description of an event, and if it could, that text would be excessively long and tedious. So every description whatsoever implies a selection between what is said and what is left for the reader to infer. This selection cannot be truly neutral: the choice of the lexical items puts stress voluntarily or not on this or that feature; opting for the active/passive voice depends on whether we want to focus on who did what, or rather to leave the agent in the shadow, and so on. All these choices cannot be fully unprejudiced. This paper aims at controlling the biases that necessarily exist in all descriptions, in order to fulfill a goal: to give the best possible image of one of the protagonists of the event. This goal can itself be considered as part of a more ambitious project: on the practical side, provide a better help to writers, by looking not only at their spelling or at their style but more deeply at the linking of their arguments; on the theoretical side, simulating the reasoning that we perform more or less consciously when we select what to write and


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

how to write it, is a way to complete the grand ambition of Artificial Intelligence. In fact, finding the good arguments, their balance, order them to impress the reader is far from obvious and requires a kind of reasoning which, as far as we know, has been little studied in AI (see however Ref. 13). 1.2. Brief state of the art Our goal is to produce descriptions which, while remaining truthful, are expected to trigger, in the readers mind, inferences ultimately leading him/her to conclude what is favorable for one agent. Argumentation is definitely a field of study in AI,a but in a framework that differs significantly from ours: our objective is basically connected with linguistics, and more specifically pertains to rhetoric, which is a part of pragmatics. It requires determining, from their content, which propositions can serve as arguments. On the opposite, in AI, the authors generally assume a prior knowledge of a relation of attack between arguments,7,18 and the arguments are supposed to exist independently of their use in the argumentation. The focus is to defend a thesis in a goal-oriented dialogue, the goal being to counteract every argument liable to attack that thesis. These works use mainly logical tools and remain separate from linguistic concerns. Despite their theoretical and practical interest, these works do not accurately reflect the spontaneous nature of argumentation used in our daily life. Argumentation, as we want to investigate it, is located at a crossroads of a number of disciplines: not only linguistics but also communication sciences, logic, sociology, psychology. The problem is that, except for formal logic, the models developed in those disciplines are not of a kind that can be implemented on computers. According to Toulmin,26 formal logic is too abstract and is an inappropriate representation of how human beings actually argue. Formal logic is concerned with the notion of internal correctness and validity and it assumes that concepts do not change with time. Like Toulmin, Perelman observes that formal logic does not take into account value judgments in everyday arguments and he considers arguments based on judgments as non rational. By way of consequence, both Toulmin and Perelman consider formal logic as not suitable for the practical purpose of finding arguments when we are neither concerned with absolute truth nor with internal validity. According to Perelman, argumentation proceeds informally rather than in keeping with logical forms; the object of his theory of argumentation is the study of the discursive techniques inducing or increasing the minds adherence to the theses presented for its assent.20 Toulmin rather recommends a transformation of Logic, from the science of mathematical proofs, towards a practical guideline for commonsense reasoning. Instead of taking the syllogism as the archetype of the means to reach a conclusion, he defends a richer structure composed of a qualified claim

The interest and the use of argumentation in the sub-disciplines of AI are growing; for details see Ref. 3 []. For an overview on current research in the interdisciplinary area lying between Artificial Intelligence and the theory of argumentation, see Refs. 21 and 22.

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


supported by both data and warrant, the latter being itself equipped with a backing and a possible rebuttal. This model can be used post hoc, to explain, generally more than univocally, how a given text is an argumentation for a given thesis. But it is much more difficult to see how we could take advantage of it to build a text from the thesis we want to argue for. In a similar vein, Jean-Blaise Grize, has developed an alternative to formal logic in the analysis of argumentation: a so-called natural logic that extends the realm of reasoning that can be covered, but remains far from providing help to build the reasoning itself. Natural logic studies the operations that enable the construction of meaning in an argumentation process, how the mind reasons being analyzed through language studies.12 The concern of natural logic is to capture phenomena of thought and not the phenomena of language, unlike Anscombre and Ducrot. As a matter of fact, the theory of argumentation of these authors2 studies the argumentative entailments from a linguistic point of view. The main idea is that language does not purport to represent the world, but to argument about it. Argumentation is defined as the study of the linking of utterances leading to a conclusion. Anscombre and Ducrot endow every utterance with an argumentative aspect and an argumentative orientation. The analysis of connectors occupies an important place in this theory, since the connectors define the nature of links between utterances. The description we wish eventually to generate should be in Natural Language (NL) but as NL generation is by itself a very difficult task, we limit provisionally our ambition to the generation of an ordered list of propositions, the predicates and arguments of which being NL words. Examples of interesting works on NL generation taking into account the pragmatic aspects of the situation are Refs. 13 and 16. The former provides a list of parameters to characterize the type of output that fits best the purpose of a writer in a large number of situations; the latter focuses, as we do, on more specific issues: her study concerns procedural texts, ours, car-crash descriptions, but the spirit is similar in both cases. The paper is organized as follows: Section 2 describes more precisely our task and its motivations. Section 3 shows the general architecture of the system in which the argumentative strategies are embedded. Section 4 presents the argumentative techniques themselves. Section 5 is devoted to the representation language and its implementation. Section 6 gives detailed examples. Section 7 describes a psychological experiment built in order to validate our work. 2. Description of the Task

Our purpose is to build a system that generates a description of a situation of car crash that is optimally argued, which means that it tends to minimize the share of responsibility of the defended protagonist. To achieve our goal, we need a starting point: we assume that we have at our disposal a comprehensive account of a real event. Starting from it, we want to build what we call a biased description that:


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

(i) Contains enough information for the reader to reconstruct the outline of the event, (ii) Does not contain any falsehood, (iii) Gives the best possible image of the protagonist that we decide to defend. Technically, we provide manually as input to our system: A list L of propositions describing the event in full detail, A subset of L, called the minimal list ML, considered as a sufficient basis for a reader to understand roughly what happened. From that data, we use the flexibility of NL to produce a description supposed to guide the readers inferences in the most favorable way for one of the protagonists. Our task makes use of two components: the reasoning and the language component. The main idea is to use common sense knowledge in order to differentiate between what is in favor of the desired conclusion and what is not, and especially to determine the best way to present what it is unfavorable. The power of the reasoning rules is partly due to the way they exploit the flexibility and the variety of natural language expressions. We try in this work to articulate, in a single architecture, argumentative techniques related both to reasoning and to NL issues. 2.1. The domain of application Our domain of application concerns road accidents; we have selected this domain for the following reasons: The omnipresence of the argumentative aspect is these texts. Drivers involved in an accident write short reports describing its circumstances, and send them to their insurance company. They naturally try to present things in the most advantageous perspective for them. Most people know enough about car crashes, they do not need special knowledge, as would be the case for, say medicine, to extract implicit information, to understand a text describing an accident and so to answer questions as what caused the accident? or who is responsible for the accident?. This makes it easier to design validation scenarios. There exist a large number of short texts (at most 5 lines) describing the circumstances of an accident: every insurance company receives daily car-crash reports.b The choice of this domain is also motivated by its limited lexical and semantic field while the kinds of accidents being varied enough, it provides us with a wide diversity of cases. A corpus of such reports has already been studied from different points of views (see for example Refs. 8, 10, 14 and 17).

The corpus is composed of 166 reports sent to their insurance company by drivers involved in a car accident. We are grateful to the MAIF insurance company for having given us access to these texts.

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


The corpus serves us as a source of inspiration for various situations of accidents and as a benchmark for the purpose of validation. We used it in a preliminary study5 to analyze the strategies that drivers adopt to give a good opinion of their conduct. Some drivers are really good arguers and provide what seems to us an optimal version; others are less gifted, and their efforts to hide their blunders are counterproductive. Anyway, this study helped us to determine on which parameters to play, in order to produce an effect on the reader. 3. General Architecture As shown in Fig. 1, several steps are required in the process of generating biased descriptions.
List L of actual facts Module 1: Labeling Minimal list ML List of facts labeled

Module 2: Treating bad facts

List of what can be said

Biased description

Module 3: Improvement

Fig. 1. General architecture.

As said above, the system receives as input a complete list L of propositions describing an accident, inferred from a genuine report of our corpus, and a minimal list ML intended as the shortest list from which a reader can get an idea of what happened. A fact belongs to the minimal list if and only if (i) it cannot be inferred from the rest of the reported facts, (ii) the absence of this fact makes incomprehensible the sequence of the accident. We are not interested in automating the construction of the minimal list (which might be a very difficult task), we simply build it manually and use it as an input. The output of the system is a biased description of the accident, given under the form of an ordered list of literals, from which hopefully a NL generator will be in position to write a textual description. The system consists of three modules (see Section 5.4 for details of the implementation): The first module labels the input facts; this label determines the path they follow in the subsequent chain of treatment.


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

The second module is dedicated to the treatment of facts that do not support the desired conclusion, but must somehow be present in the final description. The last module improves the quality of the output: elimination of redundant facts, global balance of the arguments, and lexical refinements. 3.1. Argumentative label The argumentative status is a label associated to a fact; it determines how it will be presented in order to contribute positively to the final purpose of an argumentation. The argumentative status is assigned for each element of the list L with respect to the desired conclusion, which is in our study to give the best possible image of the protagonist that we decide to defend. The argumentative status evolves throughout the path that a fact follows in the chain of treatment. Figure 2 shows the argumentative status used and its evolution.
A fact

is favorable B

is unfavorable M

will be omitted S

must be in the final description

will be insinuated I

will be justified J

will refer to customary norms N

Fig. 2. The argumentative labels.

(i) Facts favorable to the desired conclusion: It is the status of facts which are likely to guide the reader's reasoning in a favorable way for the author (the protagonist we defend). Facts are good, either because they are intrinsically considered as positive (to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead is a good fact), or because in a given context, they contribute in avoiding an accident (to move back is not particularly good in general, but if it is done in order to facilitate the maneuver of a truck, it will be considered as a good fact). A fact is labeled good in two cases: It is a good fact, intrinsically or contextually, performed by the protagonist we defend, which reflects respect and compliance to standards of conduct. It is a bad fact (see below) performed by the adversary; by contrast, this fact may stress the good behavior of the agent that we defend.

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


Facts labeled as good appear by default in the final description, because we expect them to have a positive influence, but they can be omitted if they have no effect or if their overabundance risks to provoke the opposite effect (see Section 4.4 and the validation of this hypothesis in Section 7). (ii) Facts unfavorable for the desired conclusion: It is the status of facts that are unfavorable for the protagonist that we defend. Facts are bad, either when they are considered negatively (not paying attention to the traffic lights is intrinsically bad), or because in a given context, they make the accident more likely, for example the fact of driving, even slowly, while it would be better to stop. Symmetrically to facts labeled good, facts are labeled bad in two cases: it is a bad fact performed by the protagonist we defend, or it is a good fact performed by the adversary. The presence of these facts in the final description may be detrimental to the purpose of argumentation. Two cases are considered, depending on the minimal list ML. (a) Bad fact to mention in the final description: If a fact does not support the desired conclusion but belongs to ML, then it must appear, explicitly or implicitly, in the final list. Three techniques are considered to minimize its argumentative impact: insinuation, justification or appealing to what we call customary norms. The first technique consists in evoking only implicitly the undesired fact while the two others mention it explicitly but present it in an appropriate context that tends to minimize its negative effect. We consider in turn these three techniques in Section 4. (b) Bad facts to omit: The silence is an argumentative strategy, and sometimes it is the best one. Thus, if a fact does not support the desired conclusion and does not belong to the minimal list, then it is better to say nothing about it, unless the previous treatments (insinuation, justification or customary norms) judge that its use in the final description would in fact be beneficial to the argumentation. The attribution of these argumentative statuses is done at the level of the first module, by using a set of rules that we call General rules. As shown in Fig. 3, the output of this module is a list of labeled facts, which will constitute the input of the second module. General rules are based both on the highway code and on the norms of common-sense reasoning (some rules are displayed in section 6). They operate in two steps: (i) The first step consists in attributing, for each fact of the factual list, one of the two argumentative statuses good or bad; the result is an intermediate list. (ii) The second step consists in updating the intermediate list, on the basis of the information provided by the minimal list. So in addition to the argumentative statuses good and bad, we will also have silence and insinuate.


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

List L of factual facts

General rules

Minimal list

Intermediate list (B,M)

List of facts labeled (B, M ,I ,S) Fig. 3. The labeling module.

4. The Argumentative Strategies According to dictionaries, to argue consists in providing arguments for a thesis or against it. A straightforward interpretation of this definition would be that a good argumentation presents only facts that are favorable for the thesis defended and says nothing about the rest. But unfortunately, some facts are essential for understanding the descriptions generated, even if they are bad to say. The difficulty is to present the evidence, while respecting the main purpose of the argument. We have proposed three techniques to address these facts; these techniques compose the core of second module (see Fig. 4). The three techniques are applied in the following order of priority: the insinuation, the justification and the use of customary norms. The priority is ensured by using non semi-monotonic defaults (see section 5.3).

List of facts labelled (B, M ,I ,S)

Rules of insinuation Rules of justification Rules based on customary norms

List of what can be said Fig. 4. Module treating bad facts.

We have given the strategy of insinuation the highest priority, because it is always preferable to let the reader infer the implied fact, rather than to tell it explicitly: the risk being to antagonize the reader by expressing overtly unfavorable facts. We do not have a rule of insinuation at our disposal for every scenario in the corpus. In the absence of such rules in a given case, we use the second strategy: the justification. This technique is

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


widely used in practice; we often try to combine the facts with others to make them more acceptable. The third technique uses the customary norms rules. 4.1. Insinuation As we have already said, we are sometimes forced to tell some facts that are unfavorable for us, and this may seriously harm the purpose of our argumentation. This is the case of bad facts belonging to the minimal list. The strategy consists in getting these facts across without uttering them at all, but in a flexible and attenuated manner. Basically, the insinuation of a fact f1 consists in replacing f1 by another fact f2 present in the factual description L, so that f1 can be inferred from f2, and f2 has a less negative impact on the reader than f1. The relation f1 can be inferred from f2 may be either the result of an inference rule based on the domain knowledge, or due to the flexibility of NL. NL pragmatics has studied presuppositions and implicatures, and it is often a good argumentative strategy to use a proposition f2 that presupposes f1, rather than uttering f1 itself.15, 6 Practically this can be done by exploiting: A strict implication f2 f1: The implication may be interpreted in different ways: it can express duties derived from the regulations, or it can express consequences or causes due to specific positions on the road. As appropriate, we may use an abductive or deductive reasoning to activate these rules. For example, if factually A has no priority over B because A is leaving his home and joins the traffic on the road, rather than A had no priority, it is better to write A was leaving home: although everyone knows that one has no priority when coming from a private ground, it sounds much less negative. A default like if f2 then generally f1: We have not all information about the accident and our reasoning rules cannot be limited to logical implications, because we need to handle exceptions that are inherent to situations encountered in everyday life. We therefore use defaults, which are tools allowing to reason in the presence of exceptions and/or when certain information is not available. The possibility of inference in the absence of certain information characterizes human common-sense reasoning. We exploit this flexibility to trigger the inference of implied facts, whose validity is only assumed and is not made explicit. For example, if the adversary B had signaled that he was turning, expressing this fact would show Bs respect of the regulations; saying only that B intended to turn is equivalent (how should A know what B intends, if B does not signal it?) but puts no emphasis on his respect of the law. We can achieve this trick if we have at our disposal a default such as if a driver intends to turn, generally he signals it. Equivalences f2 f1: Even in case of logical equivalence between two propositions, a difference may exist between them, in terms of their ability to trigger other inferences. For example, if C is a possible consequence of A, despite the equivalence between A and B, in some cases C is more easily accessible from A than from B. We use this logical equivalence in addition to the linguistic negation, which plays a


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

significant role in the argumentative process and may have different effects. In some situations it is preferable to use A instead of A and vice versa. For example, it is better to say I could not avoid it instead of saying I hit it. Even if the information content conveyed by these two sentences is roughly the same, the impact is rather different with regard to the objective of the argumentation. 4.2. Justification

Justification is the action that attempts to legitimize something (an action or failure to perform an action) by giving an explanation or a valid motive. The justification of a fact f1 using another fact f2 is applied when we find no way to insinuate f1 whereas this fact is unfavorable for the desired conclusion and belongs to the minimal list ML. The justification consists in choosing among the factual list L other fact(s) f2 which, added to f1, give(s) a better impression than f1 mentioned alone. f1 and f2 must be related and the relationship between them may be causal, consequential or explanatory. Causal knowledge is often used during the argumentative process and can be exploited in the justification task. We can distinguish among argumentative processes that ascribe a causal relationship,1 and those that exploit causal relationships like the argument by the cause / by the consequences. We can in our case, try to justify an accident by referring to one of its causes, which exempts the person we defend from his responsibilities. For example: in a passage of text B69 from our corpus: My stop wasnt quite rigorous (road wet), the author suggests that he is not responsible for the rain, which lengthens the braking distances, so he presents it as a mitigating circumstance, if not as the cause of his not quite rigorous stop ... not to say that the road conditions were perfectly known to him, and he has not held account of them. These relationships between f1 and f2, can also express intentions or beliefs. This information is very helpful for the final step of the process, as the type of the relation between facts determines the choice of the syntactic elements to present them in the best way to obtain the desired effect on the reader. 4.3. Reference to customary norms To argue, we often appeal to customary norms. A customary norm (also called informal rule) is a general practice accepted as regulating like a law the well-behaved drivers. These norms are not part of the driving regulations, but are widely recognized as legitimate. Our corpus study shows that this legitimacy is often invoked as an excuse to justify the violation of a true regulation.c The idea is to try to justify ones faulty behavior f1 by the fact that the adversary did not respect a customary norm f2. Contrary to the justifications discussed in the previous section, there is no real connection between f1 and f2, as the adversary non-complying with a customary norm does not create any right. Morec

Socio-psychological studies4 show how the behavior of drivers at intersections depends on parameters such as age, sex, occupation, and is determined by informal rules when they drive. For more details about driver behaviors see [].

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


over, a few texts of our corpus witness a strategy consisting in the insinuation of a customary norm which is not even part of the set of the driving behaviors generally accepted, just to argue that the adversary did not respect the alleged norm, thereby making the authors behavior legitimate! An example of customary norm is found in a passage of text B53 from our corpus: At the traffic lights, I was stopped behind a car. The light passing green, I moved off, but the driver of the vehicle ahead of me did not start. So I hit the back of the car. The non-compliance of a law-like norm by the adversary "when the light turns green, start the vehicle is used as a argument to justify the violation of a strong norm one must ensure that ones distance from the vehicle ahead is appropriate before moving off. In our implementation, customary norms get a special label N, and we do not plan to implement the strategy consisting in forging pretended norms just for the sake of an argumentative need. As said above the type of relation between facts provides guidelines for the step of generation. The use of customary norm is already expressed by the syntactic phenomenon of concession. The concession consists in coupling two opposite elements in order to put the light on one of them. A large number of connectors can be used to link the facts used in the customary norm (e.g. but, while, ...). 4.4. Improvements

The result of the first two modules of our system is a list of facts that can appear in the biased description. The third module shown in Fig. 5, aims at improving the output through a number of operations. The first one is a filtering operation, which selects what information to keep in order to avoid both an excess and a lack of information which may not be favorable for our argumentation. Filtering rules have been implemented to make these choices. Once the resulting list is established, the next step is to introduce connectors between the remaining facts to improve the coherence of the presentation.

List of what can be said

Writing rules

Lexico-syntactical refinement

Biased description (draft)

Biased description

Fig. 5. Module of improvement.


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

We take advantage of the argumentative guidance provided by these connectors. The final order in which elements of the description are placed is one of the important factors for the construction of a biased description. We found, by analyzing the texts of our corpus, that the authors use different scheduling strategies, depending on whether they consider themselves at fault or not (their aim is to leave as much as possible their mistakes in the background). Often the mere juxtaposition in chronological order is sufficient to create one or more relations between two propositions: addition, opposition and sometimes cause/consequence. One of the strategies that seems useful in cases where the author is at fault, consists in beginning with expressing the intention of the actions undertaken: this may affect straightway positively the reader. Then the time comes to present the description of the mistake; finally, the conclusion describes the accident as having minimal consequences and implies that the damages would have been much more severe if other decisions had been taken. Other factors contribute to the optimal order; the rules used in the previous modules may impose some special sequences: premises-conclusions for example in the case of rules of justification. Once we have the plan (structure or scheme), it only remains to relate the facts in the order chosen (we recall that our shortterm objective is not the generation of texts, but to give enough directions to a text generator for it to output a text). This last step is coupled with the task of lexical refinement: it is well known that any argumentation requires a careful choice of words. The words can evoke concepts that highlight the viewpoint of the author. For example, depending on whom we wish to defend, we may select a member of the set of verbs expressing the same reality, e.g. a collision between two cars, but a verb can orient the reader towards the idea that the collision was after all not really hard (e.g. I touched the other car) while another verb has an opposite orientation (he smashed into my car). 5. Representation Language 5.1. Reification We use a reified first-order language. According to the reification technique, a predicate, say P(x; y; z) expressing the fact that a property P applies to three arguments x, y and z will be written true(P; x; y; z): the name P of the predicate becomes an argument of the new predicate true. This technique allows quantifying over predicate names. However, a limit of reification is that it forces a fixed arity to the predicate true. To cope with this problem, we introduce a binary function combine, which constructs an object that represents the combination of its two arguments. A property with four arguments Q(x; y; z; t) is thus written: true(combine(Q; x); y; z; t). Another drawback of the technique of reification is that it requires the redefinition of ad hoc axioms on reified propositions that express the negation, the conjunction, the disjunction of properties: these axioms are included in classical first-order logic but should in principle be added here. Fortunately, in practice, we do not need to redefine all

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


of them. It turns out that the only axiom we really need in reasoning is the one that concerns the negation of a property. For this reason, we introduce a function not and we have the axiom: (P) true(X; not(P); A;T) true(X; P; A; T) In our system, the 4 arguments of the predicate true(X; P; A; T) are respectively: X: the argumentative label of the fact represented by the other arguments. X can take the following values: E, the fact is effectively true. This is the initial label of all facts given as input. B, the fact is favorable for the desired conclusion. M, the fact is unfavorable for the desired conclusion. S, it is preferable to stay silent about the fact. Mi, the fact belongs to the minimal list ML. I, it is preferable to insinuate the fact. J, the fact should be justified. N, a customary norm should be appealed to present the fact. D, the fact appears in the final description. IJ, is a value used to ensure the priority in the execution of insinuation rules. JN, is a value used to ensure the priority in the execution of justification rules.

P is a simple property (name of a predicate) or a complex one (result of the function combine); it can designate an action, an event or an effect. A is the agent concerned by the property P. T is a temporal parameter. The temporal aspect is crucial to our reasoning, as we need a representation reflecting the order in which the events actually happened. A linear and discrete representation of time is sufficient for our needs. Therefore T is an integer. 5.2. Modalities

An argumentation draws its strength thanks to the modalities which modify the impact of the bare propositions. The subjective nature of some of them plays a central role in the argumentative process. Reification allows representing modalities as first-order predicates. Indeed, to affect a modality Mod to a proposition P(x; y) we just write: Mod(X; P; x; y) where X is, as above, the argumentative label expressing the status (good or bad to say or to insinuate) of the modality. So true is one of the modalities; the others are: Duty(X; P; A; T): at time T, agent A has the duty of making property P true. Ability(X; P; A; T): at time T, agent A has the ability of making property P true. Intent(X; P; A; T): at time T, agent A has the intention of making property P true. Belief(X; P; A; T): at time T, agent A believes that property P is true. For example: Belief(B, combine (avoid, person), adv, 2) means that we have judged good to say that


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

at time 2, the other protagonist (adv) believed that he would avoid the protagonist we defend (person). Two further predicates are useful: Qualification which has the same arguments as true: Qualification(X; combine(P; Q); A; T) expresses a qualification Q of the property P which is argumentatively labeled X for an agent A at a time T. Connection links two propositions and labels their relationship. We write Connection(X; P1; A1; T1; P2; A2; T2; Type_rel) where P1 and P2 are properties, A1 and A2 are agents, T1 and T2 are time states, Type_rel is an argument expressing the type of relationship between the two propositions P1 and P2: goal, intent, cause, ... 5.3. Nonmonotonicity

Clearly, an argumentative strategy can be judged appropriate only because of the absence of some facts that, if present, could have been taken as a basis for a better way of presenting a cause. So argumentation belongs to the family of nonmonotonic reasoning.6 Among the large number of formalisms designed to handle non-monotonicity we have selected Reiters semi-normal defaults.23,24 The main reasons are that a default theory can have multiple extensions, and this is adequate to handle NL, where a given text can accept several readings; the lack of semi-monotonicity corresponds to the possibility to rank the default knowledge: strong defaults can override weak ones. The price to pay for the possibility of having priorities among defaults is the loss of the guarantee that every theory has at least an extension. But it is well-known in the literature (see e.g. Ref. 9) that only pathological semi-normal theories lack extensions. Two kinds of inference rules are considered: the strict ones, represented as material implications of the form A B, and the defeasible ones represented by Reiters normal and semi-normal defaults: normal defaults of the form

A: B abbreviated by writing A : B B A: B C abbreviated by writing A : B[C]. B

semi-normal ones, of the form

As we have said, we have opted for semi-normal defaults, because it allows us to ensure priority between rules. For example given the following set defaults D: D1

A: B , B


C : B B

The default theory = D, {A, C} has two extensions, the deductive closure of E1 = {A, C, B} and E2 = {A, C, B}. Both contain A and C, one contains B (which is the consequent of D1 and blocks D2) and the other contains B (which is the consequent of D2 and blocks D1).

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


If we want to impose an order of priority between the two defaults, such as: if D1 is applicable, D2 should not be applied, we must change the structure of the default D2. D1

A: B , B


C : B A B

By adding (A) to the justification of D2 we are sure that whenever D1 is applied, meaning that A is true, D2 is blocked because its justification (B A) is not true. On the other hand, if we have no information about A, D2 can be applied if the other parts of its condition are verified. 5.4. Implementation To implement our system, we opted for the Answer Set Programming (ASP) paradigm.11 ASP uses negation as failure to deal with defaults and achieves a nonmonotonic reasoning. It also expresses exceptions, restriction and represents incomplete knowledge. Several tools have been developed for ASP. We use in our application the tools Lparsed and Smodels25 into which we have translated our inference rules.e Smodels computes the so-called stable models, i.e. the set of literals belonging to an extension of the corresponding default theory. To give an idea of how to translate default logic into Smodels we consider the following simple cases where A, B, C are reified first-order literals. A material implication A B is translated into the rule A normal default A : B " " " A semi normal default A : B [C] " " " B:-A. B:-A, not B B:-A, not B, not C.

The number of inference rules currently in use is about 230 : 132 of them are general rules, 19 insinuation rules, 56 justification rules, 5 customary norms rules and 17 writing rules. We have made preliminary tests of our system on some factual descriptions, and we find our first results rather encouraging (see Section 6 below). 5.5. Semantic classes In order to improve the generality of our rules, we have introduced in the language the notion of semantic classes. Elements of a given class have a semantic feature in common. We define basic semantic classes as sets of concepts that share the same core and differ only by non essential features, for example the classes Shock_Action, Roll_Action. Basic classes are grouped into meta-classes; elements of a given meta-class share a semantic feature which is more abstract than the semantic feature common to the elements of basic classes. For example, the meta-class Is_Moving, contains the basic classes: Shock_Action, Roll_Action, Turn_Action and others. Using basic classes or meta-classes depends on the generality or the specificity of the rule.
d e

SMODELS and LPARSE are available on the Web at There is an easy translation between the fragment of default logic we used in our system and Answer Set Programming, for more details see Ref. 19.


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

We present here some classes that appear in the rules used to treat the example developed in Section 6. P1 is a class of properties that are favorable for their agent. A property belongs to the class P1 if it corresponds to an action, an event or a state which is conform to the highway code, for example, driving on the right (in right-driving countries). P2, is a class of properties that are unfavorable for their agent. For example entering the wrong way. P, is a class including the two previous classes in addition to some properties that can be judged as good or bad only with respect to the context. For example, overtaking a car depends on conditions of the progress of this action. Agent, is a class whose elements designate the agent involved in the accident (by convention, the agent that we defend is person and his adversary adv). Obstacle, is a class including all elements that can represent an obstacle for an agent, for example, person, adv, tree, dog, ... Inconsistent, is a timeless predicate, with two parameters of type property. Inconsistent (P, P') means that the two properties P and P' are incompatible with each other (they cannot be simultaneously true), for example inconsistent (stop, move). We have another predicate consistent expressing the fact that two properties are compatible, for example consistent (move, combine (signal, turn)). Shock_Action, is a class that includes all actions designating a shock, for example: collide with, hit, knock, jostle, run into, touch ... Each of these verbs expresses a shock, but some verbs connote this action with more violence than others, so they are preferred candidates when we want to express a shock caused by the adversary. Turn_Action, is a class that includes all actions which express the nuances of the turning action, for example: turn, deflect, change direction, swing Roll_Action, is a class that includes all actions that express the fact that a vehicle is moving, for example: run, move, drive, roll, pilot, steer ... 6. A Couple of Examples Inspired by genuine reports of our corpus, we consider two descriptions of car accidents. 6.1. Example 1 The first report presents the case of a driver leaving her residence to join the traffic in the street. She does not check whether someone is coming. Actually, a car is coming fast and when she realizes it, she has no other choice than to turn quickly the wheels; this results in her hitting a boundary stone of the sidewalk. We have at our disposal a parser that translates reports written in French into facts of our representation language.14 However, as the original reports are already argumentatively loaded, and the input of our system has to be neutral, the above story has been manually converted into a set of 31 propositions. Each of them gets the label E (effective-

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


ly true facts). To avoid duplication, this set will be presented after the presentation of the labeling process. The first step consists in sticking a B or a M f label on the facts that have an argumentative impact, this is done by using general rules, for instance: P1(P) true(E; P; person; T) true(B; P; person; T) P2(P) true(E; P; person; T) true(M; P; person; T) (R1) (R2)

[if the fact that person has a property P included in the class P1 (good properties) is present in the list L (label E), this fact gets the label B; symmetrically, if it is a bad thing, property included in the class P2, it gets the label M]. true(B; P; person; T) : true(M; P; adv; T) true(M; P; person; T) : true(B; P; adv; T) (R3) (R4)

[by default, whatever is good (respectively bad) for the person is bad (good) for her adversary (adv)]. duty (E, P, person, T) true(E, P', person, T+1) inconsistent(P, P')

duty(M, P, person, T) true(M, P', person, T+1)


[if the person had the duty to do something P and it turns out that at the next time, a property P inconsistent with that duty holds, then it is bad to mention both the duty and the fact that P holds]. But the labeling can be more contextual, e.g. not putting ones indicator is good if one has not the intention to turn; otherwise it is bad, hence the following rule: true(E; not(combine(signal; turn action)); person; T) true(E; turn action; person; T + 1)

true(M; not(combine(signal; turn action)); person; T)

By means of rules of this kind, the 31 propositions get a label, as follows: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)


true(M; suitable lane; adv; 1) true(B; is_ moving; adv; 1) true(B; suitable_lane; person; 1) true(B; is_moving; person; 1) true(B; combine(leave; home); person; 1) true(M; not(combine(see; adv)); person; 1) true(M; combine(has_ priority; person); adv; 1) duty(M; stop; person; 1) intention(B; combine(join; street); person; 2) true(M; suitable_lane; adv; 2)

B and M are the initials for the French phrases Bon / Mauvais dire (good / bad to say).


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

(11) (12) (13) (14) (15) (16) (17) (18) (19) (20) (21) (22) (23) (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29) (30) (31)

true(B; is_moving; adv; 2) qualification(B; combine(is_moving; fast); adv; 2) true(B; suitable_lane; person; 2) true(M; is_moving; person; 2) true(M; not(combine(check; lane)); person; 2) duty(M; combine(suitable_distance; stone) ; person; 2) duty(M; stop; person; 2) intention(B; combine(avoid; adv) ; person; 3) true(M; turn_wheel; person; 3) true(M; suitable_lane; adv; 3) true(B; is_moving; adv; 3) true(B; combine(avoid; adv); person; 3) true(M; not(suitable_lane); person; 3) true(M; not(combine(suitable_distance; stone)); person; 3) true(M; not(combine(see;stone)); person; 3) true(M; not(stop); person; 3) duty(M; not(combine(hit; stone)); person; 3) true(M; suitable lane; adv; 4) true(B; is_moving; adv; 4) true(M; combine(hit; stone); person; 4) true(B; combine(is_along; stone); sidewalk; 4)

The next step consists in selecting among the bad propositions, what can be left unsaid, and what must appear under one form or another. The minimal list ML below amounts to stating that the person left her residence without checking that the track was clear, that someone was actually coming, the person swung and hit a stone. (5) (11) (15) (19) (30) true(Mi; combine(leave; home) ; person; 1) true(Mi; is_moving; adv; 2) true(Mi; not(combine(check; lane)); person; 2) true(Mi; turn_wheel; person; 3) true(Mi; combine(hit; stone); person; 4)

The basic rules are: true(M; P; A; T) true(Mi; P; A; T) true(I; P; A; T) (R7)

[if a fact is labeled bad (M) but belongs to the minimal list (Mi), then it gets the label I, i.e. the fact is a candidate for being insinuated.] The other bad propositions can generally be left unsaid. This is captured by the default: true(M; P; A; T) : true(S; P; A; T) [ true(Mi; P; A; T); true(D; P; A; T)] (R8)

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


[if a fact is labeled bad, its default status is silence (S), but the default is blocked either if the fact is a member of the minimal list or if by some technique (e.g. insinuation), it gets the label D]. Therefore, among the 18 facts labeled M, only the facts no.15, 19, 30 receive the label I; if we hide them, the whole story becomes incomprehensible. But how should we present them to the best? Consider first the fact no.15: the person did not check that the lane was free. A consequence is that she did not see in due time her adversary adv. But there could many other reasons for her not seeing adv, and it is by far better to leave the premise implicit and to express only the consequence, leaving for the reader to guess for what reason she was unable to see adv. The rule is: true(I; not(combine(check; lane)); person; T) : true(S; not(combine(check; lane)); person; T) ability(D; combine(see; adv); person; T) true(IJ; not(combine(check; lane)); person; T) [true(B; combine(see; adv); person; T)] (R9) [if you need to insinuate that you did not check, by default, stay silent about it and claim that you were unable to see your adversary adv; the default is blocked if it can be proven that is good to mention the fact that person has actually seen adv. We use here the converse of: if the person had checked the lane she could have seen adv in time]. As said above, the strategy of insinuation has priority over justification. This priority is implemented through the generation, with every execution of an insinuation rule, of a new literal with the argumentative label IJ. This label is checked by the justification rules: when present, it means that the fact having already been insinuated, it no longer needs justification. The same principle is used with the rules concerning customary norms by using this time the label JN. For the fact no.19, we have no insinuation rule, so we look for a justification; the idea being that when the fact labeled I can avoid a serious inconvenience, your doing this fact can be justified by your intention to avoid this inconvenience. turn_action(At) obstacle(O) true(I; At; person; T) intention(B; combine(avoid; O); person; T) : true(S; At; person; T) intent(S; combine(avoid; O); person; T) connection(B; At; person; combine(avoid; O); person; T; goal)[ true(IJ; At; person; T)]


Finally, for the fact no.30, if a fact labeled I is an undesirable effect of an action performed for good reasons, present it as an unavoidable consequence of a good choice. By using the principle of equivalence, we opt for a different presentation, which makes things look better: turn_action(At) shock_action(Sa) obstacle(O) connection(B; At; person; combine(avoid; O); person; T; goal) true(B; combine(avoid; adv); person; T): true(S; combine(avoid; adv); person; T) true(D; not(combine(Sa; adv)); person; T) (R11)


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

Using the principle of equivalence between A and A, in this rule avoid is replaced by do not hit. We prefer to use A, because A is already used in the body of the connection rule and also we want to evoke the possibility that A could have occurred. true(B; Ra; Agent; T) qualification(B; combine(Ra; V); Agent; T) roll_action(Ra) qualif_speed(V) true(S; Ra; Agent; T)


This rule is used to eliminate a redundancy; the fact that the vehicle of adv is moving is included in the information given by the qualification of its speed that we want to highlight. As said above, good facts appear by default in the final description, but they can be omitted if they provoke a negative effect. The basic rule is: true(B; P; A; T) : true(D; P; A; T) [true(S; P; A; T)] (R13)

[if a fact is labeled good, it gets the label D to be included in the final description, except if the default is blocked because this fact has received the status (S) (e.g, to avoid redundancy, or by a new reformulation)] Before giving the output of our system, we show an example of translation of one of our default rule into the syntax of S models: shock_action(Sa) obstacle(O) true(M; combine(Sa; O); Person; T) : true(S; combine(Sa; O); Person; T) [true(Mi; combine(Sa; O); Person; T)] Translation: true(S, combine(Sa, O), person, T) :- time(T), obstacle(O), shock_action(Sa), true(M, combine(Sa, O), person, T), not true(Mi, combine(Sa, O), person, T), not true(S,combine(Sa, O), person, T)



Inferring that it is better not to mention the fact that the person satisfies the property combine(Sa, O) at T consist in proving that Sa has the semantic of a shock action which means that it belongs to the class shock_action, that O is an obstacle, T is a moment, that this property is bad to say, that there is no proof that this fact belongs to the minimal list [not true(Mi, ...)] and that we have no proof that we should not stay silent about it [not true(S, ...)]. Finally, we obtain a list of 9 propositions; put into English, they would read: The other car was moving I was leaving home The other car was driving too fast I was unable to see the other car I turned the wheels to avoid the other car I did not hit the other car

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


The other car was moving I was unable to avoid the stone The stone was along the sidewalk. This is still far from a fair text, but hopefully a NL generator might take it as input to yield a more palatable report. Let us now show what would result of taking exactly the same input (31 propositions + minimal list) and to adopt the viewpoint of adv. We skip the intermediary steps and give only the output: I was moving I was on the appropriate lane The other car was moving The other car had no priority over me The other car had the duty to check the lane {but} The other car did not check the lane The other car was leaving home The other car had the duty to stop {but} The other car did not stop The other car had the intention to join the lane The other car turned the wheel The other car was not on the appropriate lane The other car had the duty to avoid the stone {but} The other car hit the stone The stone was along the sidewalk

Here, not only should the style be improved by a NL generator, but the overabundance of arguments against the other car could reveal harmful. So a filtering stage will be added to keep, among the facts labeled B, those which are not deducible from others and which contribute significantly to the defense of the agent. 6.2. Example 2 We consider now another example of our corpus, the case of a driver moving off at the green light and hitting the back of the vehicle ahead of him. He barely touched this vehicle, since only its bumper is slightly damaged, while his own vehicle suffered no damage. As for example 1, the above story has first been manually converted into a set of propositions; each of them gets the label E. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) true(E; stop; adv; 0) true(E; stop; person; 0) true(E; combine(light; red); person; 0) true(E; combine(light; red); adv; 0) duty(E; stop; person; 0) true(E; stop; adv; 1) true(E; move_off; person; 1) true(E; combine(light; green); person; 1) duty(E; combine(approp_distance; adv); person; 1)


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

(10) (11) (12) (13) (14) (15)

duty(E; stop; person; 1) true(E; combine(light; green); adv; 1) true(E; combine(follow; adv); person; 1) true(E; not(combine(approp_distance; adv)); person; 2) true(E; combine(hit; adv); person; 2) qualif( E; combine(light_damage; back); adv; 2)

The minimal list ML here consists in stating that the person moved off at the green light and hit the vehicle ahead of him, i.e. (7) (11) (12) (14) true(Mi; move_off; person; 1) true(Mi; combine(light; green); adv; 1) true(Mi; combine(follow; adv); person; 1) true(Mi; combine(hit; adv); person; 2)

Rules very similar to those described for our first example stick a B or M label on the facts and it turns out that only (12) gets a B. So, by applying the rule R7, the facts no.7, 11, 14 receive the label I. Consider first the fact no.7: the person moves off; anyone, in a similar situation, i.e. when a red light turns green, would find it quite legitimate to move forward. This represents a customary norm used to justify this action if we have no rule to insinuate or justify it. We also use a customary norm when the light turns green, start the vehicle to connect the fact no.11 to the duty for adv to start his vehicle. For the fact no.14, we exploit the semantic implication: if A could not avoid B, then A hit B. As the former pragmatically implies that A tried to avoid B, which is good to say for the defense of A, we prefer the former expression to the latter. Finally, we obtain a list of 9 propositions; put into English, they would read: The other vehicle was stopped. I was stopped. The light was red for the other car. The other car should normally move off when the light is green. The other vehicle stopped. I followed the other vehicle. The light was green so I started my car. I was not able to avoid the other car. The back of the other car was slightly damaged.

If we adopt the viewpoint of adv we get 9 propositions; put in English, they would read: I was stopped. The other vehicle was stopped. The light was red for the other vehicle. The light is green for me. The other vehicle moved off while it should not do so.

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


The other vehicle followed me. The other vehicle did not keep sufficient distance between our two vehicles. The other vehicle hit my vehicle. The back of my vehicle was damaged.

7. Validation We have built a psychological experiment in order to tune some parameters of the system, and we analyze here its first results. The experiment consists in presenting to the subject 5 variations called (0), (A), (+), (), (B) of a given text.. The version (0) is always an original report taken from our corpus; from this report, we have inferred a number of facts and a minimal list as in the above example. The version (A) is the current output of our system, put in Natural Language, when it is asked to generate a description favorable for the author of the report. In order to assess whether the system generates a correct amount of arguments, we have erased from (A) two favorable facts: this yields the version called (); and we have augmented (A) with two favorable facts, and this yields version (+). We present also to our subjects the output of the system when asked to favor the other protagonist, but we then change the pronouns as if it had been written by the author of the original report: this is version (B). Our hypotheses are that: the subjects will prefer (A) to (), i.e. providing too few arguments is harmful; they will also prefer (A) to (+), i.e. giving too many arguments is also harmful; (B) will be unanimously considered as the worst presentation when the goal is to defend the author. Each subject reads the 5 presentations (presented in a random order to cancel the order effects) and has to answer three questions: For each presentation, is it very favorable, favorable, neutral, unfavorable, or very unfavorable for the author? According to this presentation, what is the percentage of responsibility of the author in the accident? Sort the 5 presentations from the most favorable to the most unfavorable for the author. We have collected the answers of 62 subjects for 3 texts i.e. 186 answers (one of the texts being precisely the one that we took as an example in section 6). As far as the first question is concerned, 99% of the answers (all but two of them) perceive a difference between the presentations. But this difference does not necessarily change the degree of responsibility: actually, 31 answers give 100% responsibility to the author whatever the presentation. The change of degree, when it exists, is consistent with the answers given to the first question, i.e. no subject has given a lesser degree of responsibility to a presentation rated unfavorable than to a presentation rated neutral or favorable. This is an indication that the subjects took this questionnaire seriously and did not answer at random.


S. Boutouhami & D. Kayser

The subjects were our students and colleagues. The ranking is not significantly different among the two populations, except for the degree of responsibility; students tend to be more forgiving: in the average they give 20% less responsibility to the author of the accident than the faculty staff, possibly because they show more solidarity to poor drivers? Our first hypothesis is confirmed: over 184 answers, 139 prefer (A) to (), 3 put them at the same level, only 42 prefer () to (A). Our last hypothesis is also confirmed; however a small minority (12 answers) prefer the presentation (B), perhaps because they appreciate the fairness of giving all arguments favoring ones adversary. However, our second hypothesis is disconfirmed: only 51 answers over 184 prefer (A) to (+), while 9 judge them equivalent and 124 prefer (+) to (A). If we now turn to the rank from 1 to 5 given by the subjects when they answered the last question where they are asked to sort the 5 presentations, a clear result is that the presentation (+) is best ranked for all texts (its average rank is 1,99/5), followed by the output of our system (average rank of (A)= 2,55/5). What is noticeable is that our system beats, in the average, the original report (average rank of (0) = 2,74/5). The presentations () and (B) are clearly rejected (respectively 3,64/5 and 4,08/5). This means that, according to a large majority of subjects, (A) has not reached the optimal number of positive arguments, optimum after which adding more arguments makes more harm than good. It is hard, however, to derive conclusive facts from an experiment of this kind for many reasons. For one thing, our translation into NL of the output of the system can introduce an unwanted bias, even if we strived to stay as close as possible to the propositions. The choice of the arguments subtracted () or added (+) certainly plays an important role too. The subjects (students and academics) are certainly not a balanced sample of the population. All these factors can be mitigated, as there are several ways by which the experiment could be improved. But for what goal? The current data shows that the tastes of the subjects differ considerably: e.g. some of them prefer short reports, some others vote systematically for long ones. Therefore, having the objective to build the most favorable description for one of the agents is rather elusive. Producing a text that gets the highest average rank for a wellbalanced panel of subjects would not necessarily be of practical interest: averaging all choices flattens the various profiles of the subjects, and this best description might well be a second choice for every member of the panel. It could then be scientifically more valuable to generate a number of texts, each of them being judged as excellent by a significant subset of the panel. The analysis of this experiment is still in progress and may reveal other interesting facts. But at this stage, the main encouraging conclusion is that our system succeeds in producing descriptions having an argumentative quality which competes with, and even slightly outperforms, that of the texts written by human drivers for whom the persuasion of their insurance company is a real challenge.

Strategies to Defend a Protagonist of An Event


8. Perspectives Turning back to our initial objective, at its current state our work puts together in the same architecture various inferential and linguistic techniques in order to simulate a basic form of argumentation used by humans in everyday life. The experiment described in section 7 shows that, besides a number of improvements mentioned in the flow of the paper, better results would be obtained by adding more arguments to our descriptions. But it is by now already clear that useful results can be gotten if we continue in this direction. On the practical side, the output should be connected to a good text generator in order to produce a valuable tool. On the theoretical side, further argumentative techniques should be explored, designed and evaluated, in order to bring a better knowledge of the criteria influencing the readers. Being able to generalize from there, and to determine what causes the effectiveness of an argumentative strategy, would be an interesting step in the cognitive study of Natural Languages. Acknowledgments We express our gratefulness to Denis Hilton who provided an invaluable help for the design of the psychological experiment described in Section 7. We thank Farid Nouioua for useful comments and stimulating discussions. The work presented here has been supported by the MICRAC project, funded by ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche). References
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