Doctoral thesis

Interaction and communication among autonomous agents in multiagent systems


137 p

Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2003 (jury note: Magna cum laude)

English The main goal of this doctoral thesis is to investigate a fundamental topic of research within the Multiagent Systems paradigm: the problem of defining open, heterogeneous, and dynamic interaction frameworks. That is to realize interaction systems where multiple agents can enter and leave dynamically and where no assumptions are made on the internal structure of the interacting agents. Such topic of research has received much attention in the past few years. In particular the need to realize applications where artificial agents can interact negotiate, exchange information, resources, and services has become more and more important thanks to the advent of Internet. I started my studies by developing a trading agent that took part to an international trading on-line game: the First Trading Agent Competition (TAC). During the design and development phase of the trading agent some crucial and critical troubles emerged: the problem of accurately understanding the rules that govern the different auctions; and the problem of understanding the meaning of the numerous messages. Another general problem is that the internal structure of the developed trading agent have been strongly determined by the peculiar interface of the interaction system, consequently without any changes in its code, it would not be able to take part to any other competition on the Web. Furthermore the trading agent would not have been able to exploit opportunities, to handle unexpected situations, or to reason about the rules of the various auctions, since it is not able to understand the meaning o the exchanged messages. The presence of all those problems bears out the need to find a standard common accepted way to define open interaction systems. The most important component of every interaction framework, as is remarked also by philosophical studies on human communication is the institution of language. Therefore I start to investigate the problem of defining a standard and common accepted semantics for Agent Communication Languages (ACL). The solutions proposed so far are at best partial, and are considered as unsatisfactory by a large number of specialists. In particular, they are unable to support verifiable compliance to standards and to make agents responsible for their communicative actions. Furthermore such proposals make the strong assumption that every interacting agent may be modeled as a Belief-Desire-Intention agent. What is required is an approach focused on externally observable events as opposed to the unobservable internal states of agents. Following Speech Act Theory that views language use as a form of action, I propose an operational specification for the definition of a standard ACL based on the notion of social commitment. In such a proposal the meaning of basic communicative acts is defined as the effect that it has on the social relationship between the sender and the receiver described through operation on an unambiguous, objective, and public "object": the commitment. The adoption of the notion of commitment is crucial to stabilize the interaction among agents, to create an expectation on other agents behavior, to enable agents to reason about their and other agents actions. The proposed ACL is verifiable, that is, it is possible to determine if an agent is behaving in accordance to its communicative actions; the semantics is objective, independent of the agent's internal structure, flexible and extensible, simple, yet enough expressive. A complete operational specification of an interaction framework using the proposed commitment-based ACL is presented. In particular some sample applications of how to use the proposed framework to formalize interaction protocols are reported. A list of soundness conditions to test if a protocol is sound is proposed.
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