The University of Southampton

More evidence that autonomous agents are emerging from the laboratory

Published: 
24 September 2008
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For the second year running an ECS dissertation on computerised agents has won the BCS Distinguished Dissertation Competition, indicating that agents are becoming a reality.

It is also the second year in a row that a researcher from the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) has won this annual award, which is presented by the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC), in conjunction with the British Computer Society (BCS).

This year's winner, Dr Talal Rahwan from ECS, has developed new algorithms to enable greater co-operation between agents.

He calls this interaction 'coalition formation' which allows autonomous agents to group and co-ordinate their activities efficiently so that they achieve their individual or collective goals.

‘Forming effective coalitions is a major research challenge in the field of multi-agent systems,’ said Dr Rahwan. ‘Central to this endeavour is the problem of determining which of the possible coalitions to form in order to achieve the goals of the system. Our algorithms significantly outperform previous ones in terms of execution time, solutions quality, and memory requirements.’

Last year's winner, Dr Rajdeep Dash also from ECS, examined the role of agents in the way auctions are used to manage supply chains.

Professor Nick Jennings, Head of the Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia Group at ECS, who supervised both dissertations, said: ‘The fact that dissertations on autonomous agent-based systems have won the British Computer Distinguished Dissertation Competition two years running is firm evidence that our agents are leaving the laboratory and are ready to be used in industry. We are now moving towards practical devices that support the effective co-ordination and formation of teams of first responders in major disaster response scenarios.’

An example of where agents are being developed for use in disaster management scenarios is the ALADDIN (Autonomous Learning Agents for Decentralised Data and Information Networks) project (http://www.aladdinproject.org/) which is now well under way and in which ECS is a partner.

The dissertation award selects the best British PhD/DPhil dissertations in computer science and publishes the winning dissertation and runner up submission on the BCS website. The prize winner will receive his award at the 2008 BCS Roger Needham Lecture, at the Royal Society in London, on 12th November.

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