Work in Progress


The Fishmarket Project started at IIIA as a toy environment for testing agent architectures. It soon became evident that the auction house metaphor was not only suggestive, but that plenty of interesting issues were involved in its apparently simple forms of interaction. Colleagues from the University of Bath and the Instituto di Cibernetica in Naples were soon involved in the development of prototypes and contributed to the theoretical and applied development of the project. Six successive versions of the Fishmarket auction house were developed in which more and more complex features were implemented. This evolution reached a stable phase with FM96.5 when a rather general architecture and efficient implementation in Java was obtained and reported in "FM96.5. A Java-based electronic auction house".

Currently, we are preparing a new generation of developments over FM96.5. The four main lines of activity we are pursuing are succintly outlined below:

1. Theoretical Issues

Our interests are presently centered around two basic issues: agent mediated institutions (as incarnations of rather rigid dialogical frameworks) and governors (as rather general agent-shielding devices). We have embarked in a generalization of the notions of agent-structures we had presented in ATAL-96 in order to clarify and exploit their dialogical resources. In "A Formal Framework for Accountable Agent Interactions" (Extended Abstract) we propose a sort of "algebra of governors" through which we can characterize roles, protocols and other "performative" elements of agent-based institutions, and through these we can test and verify wether or not certain accountability properties hold in a given institution and its computational realization.

2. Other Protocols

We are generalizing FM96.5 to be able to have simultaneous auctions in the same institution, and alternative bidding protocols (inverse-dutch, english, sealed envelope, Vickrey's, FCC,...) in any auction room.

This generalization involves the deployment of a protocol-specification language, formal tools for specification and testing of protocol specific features (synchrony, privacy, tightness, non-spoofing, foot-dragging,...), endowing market agents with knowledge about protocols, and allowing our basic nomadic buyer interfaces (NBI.0) to adjust appropriately.

3. Test-Bed & Tournaments

We developed for FM96.5 a test-bed tool for activating, auditing and analyzing auctions. This (java-based) tool allows us to run and analyze simulations involving human and artificial buyers. With this tool all market agents can be audited and nomadic interfaces monitored. It links all market agents and nomadic interfaces to a data-base system and allows for exhaustive analysis of all agent illocutions.

We are now involved in adding visualization and reporting facilities to the tool, and turning its auditing capabilities into fault-tolerance features. That should result in a testing environment and a family of auditing features and tools that will be compatible with the generalization of an agent-mediated auction house we are currently involved with.

In order to conduct a more systematic testing of buyer agent behaviour and alternative buyer agent architectures, we have defined a tournament environment. It involves the specification of market conditions (supply of goods, pricing conventions, buyer endowments, utility functions,...) that may allow different buyer agents to compete under standardized conditions and can be activated and monitored through our current and future test-bed tools and auction houses.

4. Buyer Agents

In FM96.5 we developed a Level.0 Nomadic Buyer Interface (NBI.0) that acts as a two-way dynamic illocutory filter for buyers. Through these interfaces, a program or a user-interface can receive all the communications the market is supposed to send, and is guaranteed to be able to communicate in time and according to the market standards whenever the buyer wants and is entitled to.

We also developed a user interface (in fact an NBI.1) that interacts with the NBI.0 and allows human users to interact with FM96.5's as buyers. We later developed a C interface (another NBI.1) that facilitates invocation of buyer agents and all the message-passing needed for buyer agents programmed in any C-compatible language or KBS to interact appropriately with the Fishmarket.

We are currently developing buyer agents based on simple heuristics programmed as CLIPS, LISP and Milord-II routines. Our interest, for the moment, is mainly to have realistic testing conditions for FM96.5, our test-bed and tournament environments and their future releases. We envision as an immediate future task the deployment of more complex buyer agent models, and learning capabilities as one of our focus.

Related Projects

1.Project SMASH, is a Spanish Government (CICYT)-funded five-year project on applications of multi agent systems in Health. In SMASH the more general problem of a sound theoretical framework for description, specification and deployment of multi agent systems is viewed through the optic of agent-based tools for doctors, patients and hospital administrators. The coordinating partner of SMASH is IIIA, and the AI groups of Universitat de Lleida and Universitat Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona), as well as the CSM - Consorci Sanitari de Mataró collaborate.

2. In February 1997, an EC-TMR project, Emporium was presented by a consortium formed by: The University of Bath, Israel's Bar-Ilan University, Germany's GMD-Sankt Augustine, Trento's IRST, Barcelona's UPC and Cambridge's ESI, with the coordination of IIIA. If funded, the topic of Agent-mediated Interactions for Electronic Market Places will allow training of young researchers around joint developments on agent models and environments for trading and negotiation in this project. Fishmarket is one of the starting prototypes on top of which more general market places and specific agent capabilities are to be developed.

3. Project VIM motivated and provided funding for some of the first collaborations in 1996.

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Updated: February 20, 1997

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