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The Interagent Communication Language


OAA's Interagent Communication Language (ICL) is the interface, communication, and task coordination language shared by all agents, regardless of what platform they run on or what computer language they are programmed in. ICL is used by an agent to task itself or some subset of the agent community, either using explicit control or, more frequently, in an underspecified, loosely constrained manner. OAA agents employ ICL to perform queries, execute actions, exchange information, set triggers, and manipulate data in the agent community.

One of the fundamental program elements expressed in ICL is the event. The activities of every agent, as well as communications between agents, are structured around the transmission and handling of events. In communications, events serve as messages between agents; in regulating the activities of individual agents, they may be thought of as goals to be satisfied.

Each event has a type, a set of parameters, and content. For example, the agent library procedure oaa_Solve can be used by an agent to request services of other agents. A call to oaa_Solve, within the code of agent A, results in an event having the form

ev_post_solve(Goal, Params)

going from A to the facilitator, where ev_post_solve is the type, Goal is the content, and Params is a list of parameters. The allowable content and parameters vary according to the type of the event.

The ICL includes a layer of conversational protocol, similar in spirit to that provided by KQML, and a content layer, analogous to that provided by KIF. The conversational layer of ICL is defined by the event types, together with the parameter lists associated with certain of these event types. The content layer consists of the specific goals, triggers, and data elements that may be embedded within various events.

The conversational protocol is specified using an orthogonal, parameterized approach. That is, the conversational aspects of each element of an interagent conversation are represented by a selection of an event type, in combination with a selection of values for an orthogonal set of parameters. This approach offers greater expressiveness than an approach based solely on a fixed selection of speech acts, such as embodied in KQML. For example, in KQML, a request to satisfy a query can employ either of the performatives ask_all or ask_one. In ICL, on the other hand, this type of request is expressed by the event type ev_post_solve, together with the solution_limit(N) parameter - where N can be any positive integer. (A request for all solutions is indicated by the omission of the solution_limit parameter.) The request can also be accompanied by other parameters, which combine to further refine its semantics.

In KQML, then, this example forces one to choose between two possible conversational options, neither of which may be precisely what is desired. In either case, the performative chosen is a single value that must capture the entire conversational characterization of the communication. This requirement raises a difficult challenge for the language designer, to select a set of performatives that provides the desired functionality without becoming unmanageably large. Consequently, the debate over the right set of performatives has consumed much discussion within the KQML community.

The content layer of the ICL has been designed as an extension of the PROLOG programming language, to take advantage of unification and other features of PROLOG. OAA's agent libraries (especially the non-PROLOG versions) provide support for constructing, parsing, and manipulating ICL expressions.

While it is possible to embed content expressed in other languages within an ICL event, it is advantageous to express content in ICL wherever possible. The primary reason for this is to allow the facilitator access to the content, as well as the conversational layer, in delegating requests. Not only does this give the facilitator more information about the nature of a request, but it also makes it possible for the facilitator to decompose compound requests, and individually delegate the subrequests.

Important declarations and other program elements represented using ICL expressions include, in addition to events, capabilities declarations, requests for services, responses to requests, trigger specifications, and shared data elements.

next up previous
Next: Providing Services Up: Mechanisms of Cooperation Previous: Mechanisms of Cooperation

Adam Cheyer
Mon Oct 19 17:14:26 PDT 1998