I was reading this weeks New Scientist ( the print edition, mind you) and this story about what the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research is doing caught my eye:
AGILE robotic fish that look like the real thing are being developed to act as government spies.
The article goes onto say that the fish will have cameras and communicate with each other using sonar.
To anyone that has read Michael Crichton’s Prey, this sounds suspiciously like a multi-agent system, albeit one that uses physical agents rather than computer simulated ones.
Wikipeedia has this to say:
The exact nature of the agents is a matter of some controversy. They are sometimes claimed to be autonomous. For example a household floor cleaning robot can be autonomous in that it is dependent on a human operator only to start it up. On the other hand, in practice, all agents are under active human supervision. Furthermore, the more important the activities of the agent are to humans, the more supervision that they receive. In fact, autonomy is seldom desired. Instead interdependent systems are needed.
MAS systems are also referred to as “self-organized systems” as they tend to find the best solution for their problems “without intervention”.
The main feature which is achieved when developing MAS systems, if they work, is flexibility, since a MAS system can be added to, modified and reconstructed, without the need for detailed rewriting of the application. These systems also tend to be rapidly self-recovering and failure proof, usually due to the heavy redundancy of components and the self managed features, referred to, above.
Although we’re not likely to see these become evolving, man-eating piranhas, it is something to keep an eye on (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know where I’m coming from).
And it demonstrates a physical application of this technology that, while the agents are not strictly independent, they are not exactly predictable either.
At least, that is the way I understand it.