International Summer School on Multi-Agent Systems, Bucharest, 1998
Adina Magda Florea
“Politehnica” University of Bucharest
1 A Definition and Classification Attempt
In computer science, as in any other science, several new ideas, concepts and paradigms emerged over time and became the “Big idea” or “Big excitement” of thediscipline. The ‘90s brought the concept of agents in computer science and this term is now as fashionable as object-oriented was in the ‘80s or artificial intelligence in the ‘70s. Being fashionable means that anyone who wants to be “en vogue” will use it, that maybe more expectation than needed will be put in the new concept and that there is the great risk of having an overused word.
Then whyagents in computer science and do they bring us anything new in modeling and constructing our applications? The answer is definitively YES and the papers in this volume contribute to justify this answer.
It would certainly not be an original thing to say that the notion of agent or agency is difficult to define. There is an important number of papers on the subject of agent and multi-agent systemdefinition and a tremendous number of definitions for agents, ranging from one line definitions to pages of agent attribute descriptions. The situation is somehow comparable with the one encountered when defining artificial intelligence. Why was it so difficult to define artificial intelligence (and we still doubt that we have succeeded in giving a proper definition) and why is it so difficult todefine agents and multi-agents systems, when some other concepts in computer science, as object-oriented, distributed computing, etc., were not so resistant to be properly defined.
The answer that I see is that the concept of agent, as the one of artificial intelligence, steams from people, from the human society. Trying to emulate or simulate human specific concepts in computer programs isobviously extremely difficult and resist definition.
More than 30 years ago, computer scientists set themselves to create artificial intelligence programs to mimic human intelligent behaviour, so the goal was to create an artifact with the capacities of an intelligent person. Now we are facing the challenge to emulate or simulate the way human act in their environment, interact with one another,cooperatively solve problems or act on behalf of others, solve more and more complex problems by distributing tasks or enhance their problem solving performances by competition.
Artificial intelligence (AI) put forward high expectations and the comparison of actual achievements with the initial hopes brought some disappointment. But AI contributed computer science with some very important methods,concepts, and techniques that strongly influenced other branches of the discipline, and the results obtained by AI in real world applications are far from being negligible.
As many other researchers, I thing that agents and multi-agent systems will be one of the landmark technology in computer science of the years to come, that will bring extra conceptual power, new methods and techniques, and thatwill essentially broaden the spectrum of our computer applications. The technology has the chances to compensate the failures of AI just because this new paradigm shifts from the single intelligent entity model to the multi-intelligent entity one, which is in fact the true model of human intelligence acting.
Considering what I have said so far, it appears that I consider the agent paradigm as onenecessarily endowed with intelligence. Are all computational agents intelligent? The answer may be as well yes as no. Because I would not like to enter here a debate about what intelligence is, I would just say that any of the agent characteristics that will be listed and discussed bellow may be consider as a manifestation of some aspect of intelligent behaviour.
Coming back to overused words and...