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An Introduction to MultiAgent Systems

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Multiagent systems are systems composed of multiple interacting computing elements, known as agents. Agents are computer systems with two important capabilities. First, they are at least to some extent capable of autonomous action - of deciding for themselves what they need to do in order to satisfy their design objectives. Second, they are capable of interacting with other agents - not simply by exchanging data, but by engaging in analogues of the kind of social activity that we all engage in every day of our lives: cooperation, coordination, negotiation, and the like.

Multiagent systems are a relatively nen7 sub-field of computer science - they have only been studied since about 1980, and the field has only gained widespread recognition since about the mid-1990s. However, since then international interest in the field has grown enormously. This rapid growth has been spurred at least in part by the belief that agents are an appropriate software paradigm through which to exploit the possibilities presented by massive open distributed systems - such as the Internet. Although they will certainly have a pivotal role to play in exploiting the potential of the Internet, there is a lot more to multiagent systems than this. Multiagent systems seem to be a natural metaphor for understanding and building a wide range of what we might crudely call artificial sociul systems. The ideas of multiagent systems are not tied to a single application domain, but, like objects before them, seem to find currency in a host of different application domains. My intention in writing this book is simple. I aim to introduce the main issues in the theory and practice of multiagent systems in a way that will be accessible to anyone with a basic background in computer science/IT. The book is deliberately intended to sit on the fence between science and engineering. Thus, as well as discussing the principles and issues in the theory of multiagent systems (i.e. the science of multiagent systems), I very much hope that I manage to communicate something of how to build such systems (i.e. multiagent systems engineering).

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