Miur PRIN project



Empowering Public Interest Communication with Argumentation

Summary of the proposal

Institutional public communication is of paramount importance in contemporary society: campaigns to promote appropriate behaviour in front of the COVID-19 emergency are just one of the most recent examples.

While the potential benefits of proper public communication are invaluable, the risks inherent to its unintentional or even deliberate misuse are huge. Conspiracy theories and widespread fake news provide some popularized examples. At the same time, ineffective and/or contradictory communications from political and health authorities around the world may have more severe consequences than disorientation. Quoting World Health Organization: “Misinformation costs lives” [WHO20].

Effectively promoting the improvement of society through proper public communication is a multifaceted research subject. Some scientific journals are devoted to the specific topic of Health Communication [HC, JHC, EJHC], while, from a more general perspective, the field of Public Interest Communications (PIC) has recently emerged as an autonomous discipline [CHR17].

Somewhat surprisingly, a scan of the literature reveals that the development of formal models and the use of information technology to support PIC activities are quite limited. This project aims at filling this gap by leveraging the potential of Computational Argumentation (CA), a field that has become, in the last three decades, a major research topic in Artificial Intelligence [BENDUN07]. CA deals with the formal representation and computer-supported management of debates and controversies and has developed both a large corpus of theoretical knowledge and a rich portfolio of implemented tools, with applications in areas like legal reasoning, medical reasoning, e-democracy [ATKal17].

As such, CA appears to be an ideal candidate with respect to the goal of providing both theoretical and practical support to institutional actors in developing their campaigns on topics of public interest. Conversely, PIC appears to be an ideal testbed for CA techniques, posing new challenges and potentially pushing further the state of the art in the field.

On these bases, the EPICA project aims at empowering PIC by establishing fundamental formal contributions and enabling unprecedented opportunities of automated support based on advanced CA techniques. To reach this goal, the project will adopt an Analyze-Model- Empower approach, which is synthetically described as follows:

As a result, it is expected that the project will transform the cross-fertilization opportunities between these fields into actual research advancements and demonstrate the potential benefits of an argumentation-empowered PIC.