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OAA System Structure

Figure 1 presents the structure typical of a small OAA system, showing a user interface agent and several application agents and meta-agents, organized as a community of peers by their common relationship to a facilitator agent.

The facilitator is a specialized server agent that is responsible for coordinating agent communications and cooperative problem-solving. In many systems, the facilitator is also used to provide a global data store for its client agents, which allows them to adopt a blackboard style of interaction. Note that a system configuration is not limited to a single facilitator. Larger systems can be assembled from multiple facilitator/client groups, each having the sort of structure shown in Figure 1.

The other categories of agents illustrated here - application agents, meta-agents, and user interface agents - are categories recognized by convention only; that is, they are not formally distinguished within the system. Application agents are usually specialists that provide a collection of services of a particular sort. These services could be domain-independent technologies (such as speech recognition, natural language processing, email, and some forms of data retrieval and data mining) or user-specific or domain-specific (such as a travel planning and reservations agent). Application agents may be based on legacy applications or libraries, in which case the agent may be little more than a wrapper that calls a pre-existing API.

Meta-agents are those whose role is to assist the facilitator agent in coordinating the activities of other agents. While the facilitator possesses domain-independent coordination strategies, meta-agents can augment these by using domain- and application-specific knowledge or reasoning (rules, learning algorithms, planning, and so forth).

The user interface agent plays an extremely important and interesting role in many OAA systems. In some systems, this agent is implemented as a collection of ``micro-agents'', each monitoring a different input modality (point-and-click, handwriting, pen gestures, speech), and collaborating to produce the best interpretation of the current inputs. These micro-agents are shown in Figure 1 as Modality Agents.

All agents that are not facilitators are referred to as client agents -- so called because each acts (in some respects) as a client of some facilitator, which provides communication and other essential services for the client. When invoked, a client agent makes a connection to a facilitator, which is known as its parent facilitator. Upon connection, an agent informs its parent facilitator of the services it can provide. When the agent is needed, the facilitator sends it a request expressed in the Interagent Communication Language (ICL). The agent parses this request, processes it, and returns answers or status reports to the facilitator. In processing a request, the agent can make use of a variety of capabilities provided by OAA. For example, it can use ICL to request services of other agents, set triggers, and read or write shared data on the facilitator (or other client agents that maintain shared data).

The common infrastructure for constructing agents is supplied by an agent library, which is available in several different programming languages. The library has been designed to minimize the effort required to construct a new system, and to maximize the ease with which legacy systems can be agentified.

next up previous
Next: Sample Interactions Up: Overview of OAA Previous: Overview of OAA

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