In the preceding chapters, we have described in detail the various techniques that can be used to construct reasoning agents for the Semantic Web. However, as we have repeatedly emphasized, this reasoning capability provides only part of the functionality that will be instrumental in the construction of Semantic Web applications. To supply the remaining functionality, we must also provide a communicative capability to the agents that we construct. This capability will allow our agents to interact and cooperate with other agents on the Semantic Web, and thereby realize more complex tasks than could be accomplished with a single agent in isolation. The focus of this chapter is on how we can design and build agents which can interact together successfully on the Semantic Web. To address the issues of communication and coordination in this environment, it is useful to take our inspiration from human social systems, where these issues are solved in the real world. Following this approach, we treat a group of agents as a society, where these agents typically share a common interest, e.g. solving a specific type of problem. To become a member of this society, an agent must agree to observe certain rules and conventions. In return, the agent can itself benefit from the society, e.g. the expertise of other agents. In this societal view, it becomes possible to define conventions for the agents to follow, and the incentives for agents to operate together are made clear. This in turn makes the challenges of agent-based communication and coordination more manageable. The societal view is a popular approach in the field of MASs, and has important consequences for the way we define our systems. Our discussion is structured around the following five considerations, which must be addressed if we are to design agents that can successfully participate in a society: 1. The ability to communicate with other agents. 2. A basis on which to understand what is being communicated. 3. The ability to structure communication into coherent patterns.
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