Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical Engineering and Computer Science


Pramod K. Varshney

Second Advisor

Lav R. Varshney


Detection and Estimation, Distributed Inferece, Human-Machine Systems, Reliable Systems

Subject Categories



Distributed inference using multiple sensors has been an active area of research since the emergence of wireless sensor networks (WSNs). Several researchers have addressed the design issues to ensure optimal inference performance in such networks. The central goal of this thesis is to analyze distributed inference systems with potentially unreliable components and design strategies to ensure reliable inference in such systems. The inference process can be that of detection or estimation or classification, and the components/agents in the system can be sensors and/or humans. The system components can be unreliable due to a variety of reasons: faulty sensors, security attacks causing sensors to send falsified information, or unskilled human workers sending imperfect information. This thesis first quantifies the effect of such unreliable agents on the inference performance of the network and then designs schemes that ensure a reliable overall inference.

In the first part of this thesis, we study the case when only sensors are present in the system, referred to as sensor networks. For sensor networks, the presence of malicious sensors, referred to as Byzantines, are considered. Byzantines are sensors that inject false information into the system. In such systems, the effect of Byzantines on the overall inference performance is characterized in terms of the optimal attack strategies. Game-theoretic formulations are explored to analyze two-player interactions.

Next, Byzantine mitigation schemes are designed that address the problem from the system's perspective. These mitigation schemes are of two kinds: Byzantine identification schemes and Byzantine tolerant schemes. Using learning based techniques, Byzantine identification schemes are designed that learn the identity of Byzantines in the network and use this information to improve system performance. When such schemes are not possible, Byzantine tolerant schemes using error-correcting codes are developed that tolerate the effect of Byzantines and maintain good performance in the network. Error-correcting codes help in correcting the erroneous information from these Byzantines and thereby counter their attack.

The second line of research in this thesis considers humans-only networks, referred to as human networks. A similar research strategy is adopted for human networks where, the effect of unskilled humans sharing beliefs with a central observer called \emph{CEO} is analyzed, and the loss in performance due to the presence of such unskilled humans is characterized. This problem falls under the family of problems in information theory literature referred to as the \emph{CEO Problem}, but for belief sharing. The asymptotic behavior of the minimum achievable mean squared error distortion at the CEO is studied in the limit when the number of agents $L$ and the sum rate $R$ tend to infinity.

An intermediate regime of performance between the exponential behavior in discrete CEO problems and the

$1/R$ behavior in Gaussian CEO problems is established. This result can be summarized as the fact that sharing beliefs (uniform) is fundamentally easier in terms of convergence rate than sharing measurements (Gaussian), but sharing decisions is even easier (discrete).

Besides theoretical analysis, experimental results are reported for experiments designed in collaboration with cognitive psychologists to understand the behavior of humans in the network. The act of fusing decisions from multiple agents is observed for humans and the behavior is statistically modeled using hierarchical Bayesian models. The implications of such modeling on the design of large human-machine systems is discussed. Furthermore, an error-correcting codes based scheme is proposed to improve system performance in the presence of unreliable humans in the inference process. For a crowdsourcing system consisting of unskilled human workers providing unreliable responses, the scheme helps in designing easy-to-perform tasks and also mitigates the effect of erroneous data. The benefits of using the proposed approach in comparison to the majority voting based approach are highlighted using simulated and real datasets.

In the final part of the thesis, a human-machine inference framework is developed where humans and machines interact to perform complex tasks in a faster and more efficient manner. A mathematical framework is built to understand the benefits of human-machine collaboration. Such a study is extremely important for current scenarios where humans and machines are constantly interacting with each other to perform even the simplest of tasks. While machines perform best in some tasks, humans still give better results in tasks such as identifying new patterns. By using humans and machines together, one can extract complete information about a phenomenon of interest. Such an architecture, referred to as Human-Machine Inference Networks (HuMaINs), provides promising results for the two cases of human-machine collaboration: \emph{machine as a coach} and \emph{machine as a colleague}. For simple systems, we demonstrate tangible performance gains by such a collaboration which provides design modules for larger, and more complex human-machine systems. However, the details of such larger systems needs to be further explored.


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