Expectation: Personalized Explainable Artiﬁcial
Intelligence for Decentralized Agents with
Davide Calvaresi 4[0000−0001−9816−7439] , Giovanni Ciatto1 [0000−0002−1841−8996],
Amro Najjar2 [0000−0001−7784−6176], Reyhan Aydoğan3[0000−0002−5260−9999],
Leon Van der Torre2[0000−0003−4330−3717], Andrea
Omicini1[0000−0002−6655−3869] , and Michael Schumacher4[0000−0002−5123−5075]
1Alma Mater Studiorum – Università di Bologna, Cesena, Italy
2University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
3Özyeğin University, Istanbul, Turkey
4University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland HES-SO, Switzerland
Abstract. Explainable AI (XAI) has emerged in recent years as a set of
techniques and methodologies to interpret and explain machine learning
(ML) predictors. To date, many initiatives have been proposed. Never-
theless, current research eﬀorts mainly focus on methods tailored to spe-
ciﬁc ML tasks and algorithms, such as image classiﬁcation and sentiment
analysis. However, explanation techniques are still embryotic, and they
mainly target ML experts rather than heterogeneous end-users. Further-
more, existing solutions assume data to be centralised, homogeneous, and
fully/continuously accessible—circumstances seldom found altogether in
practice. Arguably, a system-wide perspective is currently missing.
The project named “Personalized Explainable Artiﬁcial Intelligence for
Decentralized Agents with Heterogeneous Knowledge” (Expectation)
aims at overcoming such limitations. This manuscript presents the overall
objectives and approach of the Expectation project, focusing on the
theoretical and practical advance of the state of the art of XAI towards
the construction of personalised explanations in spite of decentralisation
and heterogeneity of knowledge, agents, and explainees (both humans or
To tackle the challenges posed by personalisation, decentralisation, and
heterogeneity, the project fruitfully combines abstractions, methods, and
approaches from the multi-agent systems, knowledge extraction / injec-
tion, negotiation, argumentation, and symbolic reasoning communities.
Keywords: Multi-agent systems ·eXplanable AI ·Chist-Era IV ·Per-
sonalisation ·Decentralisation ·Expectation
2 Calvaresi et al.
1 Background and Motivations
In recent decades, data-driven decision-making processes have increasingly in-
ﬂuenced strategic choices. This applies to both virtual and humans’ decisional
needs. The application domains of Machine learning (ML) algorithms are broad-
ening [1,2]. Ranging from ﬁnance to healthcare, ML supports humans in making
informed decisions based on the information buried within enormous amounts
of data. However, most eﬀective ML methods are inherently opaque, meaning
that it is hard for humans (if possible at all) to grasp the reasoning hidden
in their predictions (so-called black boxes). To mitigate the issues arising from
such opaqueness, several techniques and methodologies aiming at inspecting ML
models and predictors have been proposed under the eXplainable Artiﬁcial Intel-
ligence (XAI) umbrella [3,4] (e.g., feature importance estimators, rule lists, and
surrogate trees ). Such tools enable humans to understand, inspect, analyse –
and therefore trust – the operation and outcomes of AI systems eﬀectively.
The many XAI-related initiatives proposed so far constitute the building
blocks for making tomorrow’s intelligent systems explainable and trustable. How-
ever, to date, the ultimate goal of letting intelligent systems provide not only
valuable recommendations but also motivations and explanations for their sug-
gestions – possibly, interactively – is still unachieved. Indeed, current research
eﬀorts focus on speciﬁc methods and algorithms, often tailored to single ML
tasks—e.g. classiﬁcation and, in particular, image classiﬁcation. For instance,
virtually all approaches proposed so far target supervised learning, and in par-
ticular, classiﬁcation tasks [6,3,4]—and many of them are tailored on neural
networks . In other words, there is still a long way to generality .
Moreover, while existing XAI solutions do an excellent job on inspecting ML
algorithms, current interpretation/explanations provide valuable insights solely
proﬁtable by human experts, entirely neglecting the need for producing more
broadly accessible or personalised explanations that everybody could under-
stand. Recalling their social nature, explanations should rather be interactive
and tailored on the explainee’s cognitive capabilities and background knowledge
to be eﬀective [9,10].
To complicate this matter, existing XAI solutions assume data to be cen-
tralised, homogeneous, and fully/continuously available for operation . Such
circumstances rarely occur in real-world scenarios. For example, data is of-
ten scattered through many administrative domains. Thus, even when carry-
ing similar information, datasets are commonly structured according to diﬀerent
schemas—when not lacking structure at all. Privacy and legal constraints com-
plete the picture by making it unlikely for data to be fully available at any
given moment. In other words, the availability of data is more frequently partial
rather than total. Therefore, explainable intelligent systems should be able to
deal with scattering, decentralisation, heterogeneity, and unavailability of data,
rather than requiring data to be centralised and standardised before even start-
ing to process it—which would impose heavy technical, administrative, and legal
constraints on the production of both recommendations and explanations.
Summarising, further research is needed to push XAI towards the construc-
tion of personalised explanations, which can be built in spite of decentralisation
and heterogeneity of information—possibly, out of the interaction among intel-
ligent software systems and human or virtual explainees.
Clearly, tackling personalisation, decentralisation, and heterogeneity entails
challenges from several perspectives. On the one hand, personalisation of expla-
nations must cope with the need for providing human-intelligible (i.e., symbolic)
explanations of incremental complexity, possibly iteratively adapting to the cog-
nitive capabilities, and background knowledge of the users who are receiving
the explanation. In turn, it requires enabling an interactive explanation process
both within the intelligent systems themselves (i.e., agent to agent) and with
the end-users. On the other hand, decentralisation of data opens to question-
ing how explanations can be produced or aggregated without letting data cross
administrative borders. Therefore, the need for collaboration among multiple
cross-domain software entities is imperative. Finally, the challenge of hetero-
geneity, of both data and ML techniques used to mine information out of it,
dictates the detection of some lingua franca to present recommendations and
explanations to the users in intelligible forms.
To address these challenges, the Expectation project has been recently
recommended for funding – along with other 11 projects – as part of the Chist-
Era 2019 call5concerning “Explainable Machine Learning-based Artiﬁcial In-
telligence”. The project has started on April 1, 2021 and it will last up to the
of March 2024. In the remainder of this paper, we discuss how the project plans
to tackle the challenges posed by personalisation, decentralisation, and hetero-
geneity, by fruitfully combining abstractions, methods, and approaches from the
multi-agent systems, knowledge extraction/injection, negotiation, argumenta-
tion, and symbolic reasoning research areas.
2 State of the Art
The generation of personalised explanation for decentralised and heterogeneous
intelligent agents roots in several disciplines, including XAI, agreement technolo-
gies, personalisation, and AI ethics.
2.1 Explainable Agency
Neuro-symbolic integration [11,12] aims at bridging the gap between symbolic
and sub-symbolic AI, reconciling the two key branches of AI (connectionist AI –
relying on connectionist networks inspired from human neurons, and symbolic AI
– relying on logic, symbols, and reasoning) . Sub-symbolic techniques (e.g.,
pattern recognition and classiﬁcation) can oﬀer excellent performance. However,
their outcomes can be biased and diﬃcult to understand (if possible at all).
Seeking trust, transparency, and the possibility to debug sub-symbolic predic-
tors (so-called black boxes), the XAI community relies on reverse engineering
4 Calvaresi et al.
models trained on unknown datasets generating plausible explanations ﬁtting
the outcome produced by the black box . A typical practice is to train an
interpretable machine learning model (e.g., decision trees, linear model, or rules)
with the outcome of a black box [3,15,16].
Explainable agents go beyond the mere application of sub-symbolic ML mech-
anisms. Agents can leverage symbolic AI techniques (e.g., logic and planning
languages), which are easier to trace, reason about, understand, debug, and
explain . However, they can still partially rely on ML predictors, thus deem-
ing necessary to be explaining their overall behavior (relying on neuro-symbolic
integration). Endowing virtual agents with explanatory abilities raises trust, ac-
ceptability, and reduces possible failures due to misunderstandings [14,18]. Yet,
it necessary to consider user characterisation (e.g., age, background, and exper-
tise), the context (e.g., why do the user need the explanation), and the agents’
Built-in explainability is still rare in literature. Most of the works utterly
provide indicators which “should serve” as an explanation for the human user .
To date, such approaches have been unable to produce satisfying human-under-
standable explanations. Nevertheless, more recent contributions employ neuro-
symbolic integration to identifying factors inﬂuencing the human comprehension
of representation formats and reasoning approaches .
2.2 Agreement Technologies
Understanding other parties’ interests and preferences is crucial in human social
interaction. It enables the proposal of reasonable bids to resolve conﬂicts eﬀec-
tively [20,21]. Agreement technologies (AT)  literature counts several tech-
niques to automatically learn, reproduce, and possibly predict an opponent’s
preferences and bidding strategies in conﬂict resolution scenarios .
AT are mostly based on heuristics [24,25] and traditional ML methods (e.g.,
decision trees [26,27], Bayesian learning [28,29,30], and concept-based learn-
ing [31,32]) and rely on possibly numerous bid exchanges regulated by nego-
tiation protocols . By exploiting such techniques, machines can negotiate
with humans seamlessly, resolving conﬂicts with a high degree of mutual un-
derstanding . Nevertheless, in human-agent negotiation, the complexity sky-
rockets. Humans leverage on semantic and reasoning (e.g., employing similari-
ties/diﬀerences) while learning about the competitors’ preferences and generat-
ing well-targeted oﬀers. Conversely to agent-agent, the number of exchanged bids
between parties is limited due to the nature of human interactions, and may em-
ploy unstructured data. Therefore, classical opponent modeling techniques used
in automated negotiation in which thousands of bids are exchanged may not be
suitable, and additional reasoning to understand humans’ intentions, interests,
arguments, and explanations supporting their proposals is required [35,36]. To
the best of our knowledge, there is no study incorporating exchanged arguments
or explanations into opponent modeling in agent-based negotiation literature.
Without explanations, human users may attribute a wrong state of mind to
agents/robots . Thus, the creation of an eﬀective agent-based explainable
AT for human-agent interactions and the realisation of a common understand-
ing would require the integration of (i) ontology reasoning, (ii) understanding
humans’ preferences/interests by reasoning on any type of information provided
during the negotiation, and (iii) generating well-targeted oﬀers with their sup-
portive explanations or motivations (i.e., why the oﬀer can be acceptable for
their human counterpart). To the best of our knowledge, the state of the art still
needs concrete contributions concerning the three directions mentioned above.
Moreover, albeit the need for personalised motivations and arguments (e.g., con-
sidering user expertise, personal attributes, and goals) is well known in litera-
ture , most of the existing works are rather conceptual and do not consider
the overall big picture . Furthermore, no work addresses explanation person-
alisation in the context of heterogeneous systems combining sub-symbolic (e.g.,
neural network) and symbolic (agents/robots) AI mechanisms.
2.3 AI Ethics
Due to the growing adoption of intelligent systems, machine ethics and AI ethics
have received a deserved increasing attention from scientists working in vari-
ous domains . The growing safety, ethical, societal, and legal impacts of AI
decisions are the main reason behind this surge of interest . In literature,
AI ethics includes implicitly- and explicitly-moral agents. In both cases, intelli-
gent systems depend on human intervention to distinguish moral from immoral
behaviour. However, on the one hand, implicitly-moral agents are ethically con-
strained from having immoral behaviour via rules set by the human designer .
On the other hand, explicitly-ethical agents (or agents with functional morality)
presume to be able to morally judge themselves (having guidelines or examples
of what is good and bad ).
Summarising, AI systems can have implicit and explicit ethical notions. The
main advantage of implicit AI ethics is that they are simple to develop and con-
trol, being incapable of unethical behaviour. Nevertheless, this simplicity implies
mirroring the ethic standing point and perception of the designer. Explicit-ethics
systems aﬃrm to autonomously evaluate the normative status of actions and rea-
son independently about what they consider unethical, thus being able to solve
normative conﬂicts. Furthermore, they could bend/violate some rules, resulting
in better fulﬁlment of overarching ethical objectives. However, the main short-
coming of these systems is their complexity and possible unexpected behaviour.
3 The Expectation Approach
This section elaborates on the limitations elicited from the state of art, the
related challenges, and formalises the needed interventions. The six major limi-
tations identiﬁed are:
(L1) Opaqueness of sub-symbolic predictors. Most ML algorithms leverage
a sub-symbolic representation of knowledge that is hard to debug for experts
6 Calvaresi et al.
and hard to interpret for common people. Thus, the compliance of internal
mechanisms and results with ethical principles and regulations cannot be
(L2) Heterogeneity of rule extraction techniques. Extracting general-purpose
symbolic rules from any sort of sub-symbolic predictor can be a diﬃcult task
(if possible, at all). Indeed, the nature of the data and the particular pre-
dictor at hand signiﬁcantly impact the quality (i.e., the intelligibility) of the
extracted rules. Furthermore, existing techniques to extract rules to produce
explanations mostly leverage structured, low-dimensional data, given the
scarcity of methods supporting more complex data (i.e., images, videos, or
audios). In particular, most of the existing works interpreting sub-symbolic
mechanisms place interpretable mechanisms (i.e., decision-tree) on top of
the predictors, thereby interpreting (e.g., reconstructing) from outside their
outcomes without really mirroring their internal mechanisms.
(L3) Manual amending and integration of heterogeneous predictors. The
update and integration of already pre-trained predictors are usually hand-
crafted and poorly automatable. Moreover, it heavily relies on datasets that
might be available only for a limited period. Therefore, a sustainable, au-
tomatable, and seamless sharing/reusing/integrating of knowledge from di-
verse predictors is still unsatisfactory.
(L4) Lack of personalisation. Current XAI approaches are mostly one-way
processes (e.g., interactive interactions are rarely involved) and do not con-
sider the explainee’s context and background. Thus, the customisation and
personalisation of the explanations are still open challenges.
(L5) Tendency of centralisation in data-driven AI. The development of sub-
symbolic predictors usually involves the centralisation of training data in a
single point, which raises privacy concerns. Thus, letting a system composed
of several distributed intelligent components learning without centralising
data is still an open challenge.
(L6) Lack of explanation integration in Agreement Technologies. Current
negotiation and argumentation frameworks mostly leverage well-structured
interactions and clearly deﬁned objectives, resources, and goals. Current AT
are not suitable for providing interactive explanations nor for reconciling
fragmented knowledge. Moreover, although a few works explored more so-
phisticated mechanisms (e.g., adopting semantic similarities via subsumption
to relate alternative values within a single bid), the need for ontological rea-
soning to infer the relationship between several issues – possibly pivotal in
negotiation and argumentation of explanations – is still unmet.
To overcome the limitation mention, Expectation formalises the following ob-
(O1) To deﬁne an agent-based model embedding ML predictors relying on hetero-
geneous (though potentially similar/complementary) knowledge, as in train-
ing datasets, contextual assumptions & ontologies.
(O2) To design and implement a decentralised agent architecture capable of inte-
grating symbolic knowledge and explanations produced by individual agents.
(O3) To deﬁne and implement agent strategies for cooperation, negotiation, and
trust establishment for providing personalised explanations according to the
(O4) To investigate, implement, and evaluate multi-modal explanation communi-
cation mechanisms (visual, auditory, cues, etc.), the role of the type of agent
providing these explanations (e.g., robot, virtual agents), and their role in
(O5) To validate and evaluate the personalised explainability results, as well as the
agent-based XAI approach for heterogeneous knowledge, within the context
of a prototype, focused on food and nutrition recommendations.
(O6) To investigate the speciﬁc ethical challenges that XAI is able to meet and
when and to what extent explicability is legally required in European reg-
ulations, considering the AI guidelines and evaluation protocols published
by the national and European institutions (e.g., the Data Protection Impact
Analysis thanks to the open-source software PIA, CNIL guidelines), as well
as recent research on the ethics of recommender systems w.r.t. values such
as transparency and fairness.
(i.e., negotiation argumentation)
in agent-user & agent-agent settings
(i.e., SoM, knowledge)
Ethics-compliance veriﬁcation and validation O6
Contributes to implemented in
Topic Aﬀects O2 Aﬀects O4,O5
Fig. 1. Expectation’s objectives, topics, and respective interconnections.
The aforementioned objectives are clearly interdependent. In particular, Fig-
ure 1 groups and organises the objectives per contribution, eﬀect, and imple-
mentation among each other.
8 Calvaresi et al.
3.1 Research Method
Despite being still in its early stage, the project’s roadmap has already been
established. Expectation’s research and development activities will be carried
out along two orthogonal dimensions – namely intra- and inter-agent ones –, as
depicted in Figure 2.
Fig. 2. Main components and interactions of the proposed architecture.
The envisioned scenario for this project assumes a 1-to-1 mapping between
end-users and software agents (cf. Figure 2, rightmost part). Therefore, each
software agent interacts with a single user in order to (i) acquire their contextual
data (cf. blue dashed line in Figure 2), and (ii) provide them with personalised
explanations taking that contextual information into account (cf. green solid line
in Figure 2). This is the purpose of what we call intra-agent explainability.
However, the idea of building agents that provide precise recommendations
by solely leveraging on the data acquired from a single user is unrealistic. Ac-
cordingly, we envision agents to autonomously debate and negotiate with each
other to mutually complement and globally improve their knowledge, thus gen-
erating personalised and accurate recommendations. Addressing this challenge
is the purpose of what we call inter-agent explainability.
On the one hand, intra-agent explainability focuses on deriving explainable
information at the local level – where contextual information about the user
is most likely available – and on presenting it to the user in a personalised
way. To do so, symbolic knowledge extraction and injection play a crucial role.
The former lets agents fully exploit the predictive performance of conventional
ML-based black-box algorithms while still enabling the production of intelligible
information to be used for building personalised explanations. Conversely, by
injecting symbolic knowledge in ML-based systems, agents will be able to update,
revise, and correct the functioning of ML-based predictors by taking into account
users’ contextual information and feedback.
On the other hand, inter-agent explainability focuses on enabling the agents
to exploit negotiation and argumentations to mutually improve their predictive
capabilities by exchanging the symbolic knowledge they have extracted from
given black boxes. Even in this context, the role of symbolic knowledge extrac-
tion is of paramount importance as it enables exchanges of aggregated knowledge
coming from diﬀerent ML-predictors—which possibly oﬀer diﬀerent perspectives
on the problem at hand. To this end, inter-agent explainability requires for-
malising interaction protocols specifying what actions are possible and how to
represent this information so that both parties can understand and interpret it
seamlessly. Moreover, inter-agent interactions will require reasoning mechanisms
handling heterogeneous data received from other agents, including techniques to
detect conﬂicts and adopt resolution or mitigation policies accordingly.
By combining intra- and inter-agent explainability, Expectation will be able
to tackle decentralisation (of both data and agents), heterogeneity (of both data
and analysis techniques), and users’ privacy simultaneously. Indeed, the proposed
approach does not require data to be centralised to allow training and knowledge
extraction. Therefore, each agent can autonomously take care of the local data it
has access to by exploiting the ML-based analysis technique it prefers, while joint
learning is delegated to decentralised negotiation protocols which only exchange
aggregated knowledge. Users’ personal data is expected to remain close to the
user, while agents are in charge of blending the extracted symbolic knowledge
with the general-purpose background knowledge jointly attained by the multi-
agent systems via negotiation and argumentation. Heterogeneity is addressed
indirectly via knowledge extraction, which provides a lingua franca for knowledge
sharing in the form of logic facts and rules.
Notably, knowledge extraction is what enables bridging intra- and inter-agent
explainability too, as it enables the exchange of the extracted knowledge via
negotiation and argumentation protocols—which already rely on the exchange
of symbolic information.
Knowledge injection closes the loop by letting the knowledge acquired via
interaction to be used to improve the local data and analytic capabilities of
each individual agent. Finally, the purposes of preserving privacy and complying
with ethical implications are addressed by only allowing agents to share aggre-
gated symbolic knowledge. Moreover, we envision to equip the agents with ethics
reasoning engines combining techniques from both implicit and explicit ethics.
To test the advancement produced by EXPECTATION, we envision combin-
ing the techniques mentioned above in a proof of concept cantered on a topic
which nowadays is delicate more than ever: a nutrition recommender system,
fostering a responsible and correct alimentation. Such a prototype will be tested
and evaluated according to the user-subjective such as understandability, trust,
acceptability, soundness, personalisation, perceived system autonomy, perceived
user autonomy, and fairness. The envisioned agent-based recommender system is
intended to operate as a virtual assistant equipped with personalised explanatory
capabilities. This would make it possible to tackle two dimensions of the quest
10 Calvaresi et al.
for a correct regime (i) trust and acceptance, and (ii) autonomous personalisa-
tion, education, and explicability. In particular, the user will be provided with
transparent explanations about the recommendation received. The purpose of
the explanations is multi-faceted: (i) educative (i.e., improve the user knowledge
and raising his/her awareness about a given topic/suggestion), (ii) informative
(i.e., indicate the user on how the system works), and (iii) motivational (i.e., it
helps the user understanding how personal characteristics and decisions lead to
Overall, Expectation is expected to impact beyond its lifespan. Such an
impact encompasses several aspects and is four-folded.
Impact of theoretical outcomes. Production of mechanisms to extract, com-
bine, explain, negotiate heterogeneous symbolic knowledge as well as coop-
eration and negotiation strategies.
Impact of technological outcomes. Fostering the adoption of intelligent sys-
tems in health and safety-critical domains and inspiring new technology
leveraging innovative multi-modal explanation communication mechanisms.
Impact in application domains. We expect uptake of the project results in
sectors (commercial/academic) such as eHealth, prevention, wellbeing appli-
cations, and distribution and restoration.
Impact of ethical aspects. Given the sensitive nature of personal data in the
context of the project, the proposed XAI prototype will develop generalisable
mechanisms to ensure compliance, fairness, transparency, and trust.
This work has been partially supported by the Chist-Era grant CHIST-ERA-
19-XAI-005, and by (i) the Swiss National Science Foundation (G.A. 20CH21_195530),
(ii) the Italian Ministry for Universities and Research, (iii) the Luxembourg Na-
tional Research Fund (G.A. INTER/CHIST/19/14589586 and
INTER/Mobility/19/13995684/DLAl/van ), (iv) the Scientiﬁc and Research
Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK, G.A. 120N680).
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