Guest lecture by Professor KK Phoon: Can you design with uncertain data (almost painlessly)?

Professor KK Phoon
Professor KK Phoon

Professor Kok-Kwang Phoon from the National University of Singapore will give an open lecture titled: Can you design with uncertain data (almost painlessly)? In his talk, Professor Phoon will discuss how the unavoidable uncertainty in data can be directly treated by applying reliability-based methods in geotechnical design. 

The lecture is open for everyone and does not require registration.

Abstract: Real world data are uncertain. But geotechnical design is deterministic. The gap between ideal determinism and reality is mitigated by a combination of rather informal risk management strategies. Examples include using “cautious” input values, adopting conservative physical models, applying a factor of safety to discount the output (e.g. capacity), and carrying out “reality checks” based on experiences in past projects. These strategies have been successful, but ironically they cannot be improved when you have more data. There is a debate on how we can digitalize our profession when our design strategies are not fully responsive to data. This lecture is a highly condensed version of a short course that covers characterization of uncertain data and direct application to design using the first-order reliability method without the need to agonize over, say, how “cautious” should be my cautious estimates of the input parameters. In short, there is no need to shoehorn naturally occurring uncertain data into a single deterministic number to fit a deterministic design process. The more clever approach is to use the reliability-based method design that can work with uncertain data directly. It is even possible to do this almost painlessly using EXCEL. No knowledge of probability is needed beyond an appreciation of simple statistical concepts such as the mean and the standard deviation.

Bio: Kok-Kwang Phoon is Distinguished Professor and Vice Provost (Academic Personnel), National University of Singapore. He obtained his BEng and MEng from the National University of Singapore and his PhD from Cornell University. He is a Professional Engineer in Singapore and past President of the Geotechnical Society of Singapore. Professor Phoon is particularly interested in developing statistical and other data-driven methods to support decision making in geotechnical engineering. He is the lead editor of 3 books: Reliability of Geotechnical Structures in ISO2394 (CRC Press/Balkema, 2016), Risk and Reliability in Geotechnical Engineering (CRC Press, 2015), and Reliability-based Design in Geotechnical Engineering (Spon Press, 2008). He was bestowed with numerous research awards, including the ASCE Norman Medal in 2005, the John Booker Medal in 2014, and the Humboldt Research Award in 2017. He is the Founding Editor of Georisk and advisory board member for the WEF Global Risks Report. He was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Engineering Singapore in 2012.

Event contact person: Doctoral Candidate Monica Löfman, monica.lofman [at]

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