Q1: What is AgentLink?
AgentLink is Europe's IST-funded Coordination Action for agent-based computing. As such, AgentLink coordinates research and development activities in the area of agent-based computer systems on the behalf of the European Commission. AgentLink supports a range of activities aimed at raising the profile, quality, and industrial relevance of agent systems research and development in Europe, and promoting awareness and adoption of agent technologies.
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Q2: What is IST?
IST is a research and development programme together with a number of related industrial takeup measures funded by the European Commission. IST operates in the area of information society technologies. You can find out about IST's current activities from the IST home page, and also obtain some overview information.
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Q3: What is a "Cooperation Action"?
This " Cooperation Action" is an IST project
. The goal of a Cooperation Action is broadly to provide a communication and cooperation infrastructure for a specific, strategically important area of information technology. Projects contain a number of members, or "nodes", which are typically either university departments active in research in the area, or companies active in research and development in the area.
Funding is supplied by the Commission primarily to enable communication between these nodes. This funding takes the form of support for travel to meetings, support for a WWW site and newsletter, and various similar sorts of activities. Projects thus act as facilitators for research and development - they do not fund research and development directly.
It is hoped (and indeed expected) that projects will act as facilitators for new collaborations. Such collaborations may be informal (in the sense of two nodes who start working on a joint research project) or formal (in the sense of project proposals emerging from the network.
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Q4: What is an agent?
A good question, and one that receives an inordinate amount of time from within the agent community itself. Rather as was the case in the early days of object-oriented development, there is no one universally accepted definition of an agent, but instead a lot of people working in closely related areas, using similar ideas. Put crudely, an agent is an autonomous software system: a system that can decide for itself what it needs to do. Given this basic definition, two main "religions" appear to have emerged with respect to agents: the intelligent agents community, and the mobile agents community. Intelligent agents are essentially agents that can do reasoning or planning. Mobile agents are agents that can transmit themselves across a computer network (e.g., the internet) and recommence execution on a remote site.
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Q5: Why are agents important?
Agents are important for several reasons:
- they are seen as a natural metaphor for conceptualising and building a wide range of complex computer systems (the world contains many passive objects), but it also contains very many active components as well);
- they cut across a wide range of different technology and application areas, including telecoms, human-computer interfaces, distributed systems, and so on;
- they are seen as a natural development in the search for ever-more powerful abstractions with which to build computer systems.
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Q6: What does AgentLink do?
AgentLink divides its activities into seven main areas:
facilitating technology transfer through a program of industrial meetings, workshops, standardisation updates, and awareness-buillding activities.
promoting excellence in European agent research through support for workshops, technical forums , and dissemination of research results.
- Student Integration Programme
establising agent related skills throughout Europe by support for summer schools and courses< for the next generation of agent researchers and developers.
Technical Forum Groups
focussing on the development of communities around areas of strategic importance and providing input to the technological roadmap.
- Technological Roadmap
providing an infrastructure through which AgentLink can do its work, including a WWW site, regular newsletter, email list, and an awareness programme.
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Q7: Exactly what industrial activities do you carry out?
The main aim of this workpackage is to leverage competitive advantage for EU industry, and in particular the software sector, by:
- raising awareness within industry of the value and appropriateness of agent-based computing techniques for complex systems development, and demonstrating the potential of this technology for solving industrial problems;
- facilitating the transfer of agent technology, skills, standards and best-practice from academia to industry; and finally
- focussing European research on agent-based systems on industrial problems, by facilitating the transfer of user requirements from industry to agent researchers.
In order to realise these aims, the following program of work is being carried out:
- Industrial awareness programme.
The industrial awareness programme established in AgentLink II will be continued in AgentLink III. The aim will be: (i) to bring the activities of AgentLink to the attention of an industrial audience, and (ii) to promote awareness of agent research and development activities in the European Region. Typically, these meetings involve taking a stall at an industrially-oriented conference, distributing leaflets and other promotional material, giving presentations on aspects of agents and agent technology, and hosting the annual Agent Technology Conference
- Agent systems and technology database
A database of developed agent systems, technologies, and products is available via the network's WWW site. In addition, a database has been developed of agent-related expertise available within AgentLink. This database is freely available via the AgentLink WWW site. We will continue to build upon this activity, ensuring that the databases are kept up-to-date and accurate, and we will
develop and expand the database to cover new areas of agent technology as they emerge.
- Standardisation initiatives.
The lack of appropriate communication, cooperation, and negotiation standards is one of the main obstacles in the way of wider deployment of agent systems technology. The aim of this task will be to promote the development, dissemination, and adoption of such standards within the European region. AgentLink will do this by disseminating news about current standardisation activities to members of the network. Resources will be made available for AgentLink members to attend and report upon standardisation initiatives.
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Q8: Exactly what Research Activities Do You Carry Out?
The first and most important thing to note is that AgentLink is not specifically a research project; we do not directly fund research activities, or employ researchers to carry out research. As with the network generally, our role is more that of facilitator: we aim to carry out activities that will enable and encourage first-rate European agent research. More specifically, the goals of the research component of AgentLink are:
- encouraging the development of research communities in new and promising areas;
- providing a high-quality infrastructure for disseminating research results, issues, datasets, and software; and
- encouraging cross fertilisation of research skills across the European region.
In order to realise these aims, the following program of work are being carried out:
- Research database.
A research database has been established, mapping areas of research within the scope of AgentLink to nodes within AgentLink that have expertise in these areas. The database is available via the AgentLink WWW site, and provides at-a-glance information on the major areas of strength within AgentLink. this activity will be consolidated by ensuring that the database is kept up-to-date, and by expanding it with new areas of research and development
activity as they emerge.
- Research area Technical Forum Groups.
In order to promote collaborative projects and cross fertilisation of ideas between academic nodes with similar interests, an infrastructure has been put in place to support technical forum groups (TFGs) addressing special areas of research interest. The infrastructure will promote collaborative projects by putting groups with related interests in touch with one-another, providing information about national and international project support for these areas of interest, workshops and conferences of interest, and so on. Other support will be provided in the form of funding to support meetings of the TFGs and dissemination of information.
- Clearinghouse for agent-related papers, articles, datasets, and software.
- Currently, there are no central repositories (in the world) where students and researchers can expect to find pre-prints or reprints of agent-related research material, datasets, electronic bibliographies, freely available research software, and so on --- despite the fact that all of these are available in one form or another across the WWW. AgentLink will create an online clearinghouse that allows researchers to keep such materials in a single, central place. Materials will be obtained both by actively searching for it and obtaining the
relevant permissions, and by researchers submitting it electronically. Materials will be indexed wherever possible using the AgentLink research classification, with the goal of allowing users rapid, easy access to relevant materials.
Support for agent workshops and conferences.
- Financial support will be provided for workshops and conferences that explicitly cover areas of interest to AgentLink. The goal of this support is to pump-prime research in
strategically important areas of agent R&D, as indicated in AgentLink's primary objectives. Support will be provided primarily for innovative, novel areas, with clear potential for the development of strong research communities within Europe. Support will not be provided for new workshops or conferences that relate to areas already covered by
established events. Requests for support of conferences and workshops will be directed to the workpackage coordinator, who will make recommendations to the management committee. Events supported by AgentLink will be required, as a condition of funding, to write a report on the event for subsequent inclusion in the AgentLink newsletter and the AgentLink WWW site.
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Q9: Exactly What Student Integration Activities Do You Carry out?
The aim of the teaching and student integration is really to promote agent-related skills across Europe. To this end,
- European Agent Systems Summer School (EASSS)
A centerpiece of AgentLink's teaching and training activities was the establishment of a summer school. This first of these summer schools took place in Utrecht, The Netherlands, in July
1999, and offered 18 courses on all aspects of agent technology, delivered by the very best international lecturers. About 40 AgentLink members were funded to attend, and no less than 120 other paid registrations were received, from both industry and academia. This made the 1999 summer school easily the largest agent teaching event ever, and AgentLink has built on this success by developing regular summer schools every year. Courses are presented by international experts, from both inside and outside Europe. Support is provided to fund travel, accommodation, and subsistence for both lecturers and a limited number of students. As with the earlier summer schools, additional attendance is encouraged, and a fee charged for such attendees, with the ultimate goal of making the summer schools self-financing. Where possible, lecture materials is subsequently be made available via the Agentlink WWW site.
- Late summer schools took place in Saarbrucken (2000), Prague (2001), Bologna (2002), and Barcelona (2003). The next will be in Liverpool.
Curricula database for agent-related teaching.
- To encourage the teaching of agent-based computing, AgentLink has established a WWW-based database of agent teaching materials and curricula, covering all aspects of agent-based
computing. Each curriculum summarises the teaching aims of the course, teaching plans, and pointers to reading material. AgentLink will continue to build and refine this database.
Q10: Exactly what Management/Infratructure Activities will You Carry Out?
AgentLink has an explicit management/infrastructure work area, which has the goal of providing an efficient and effective infrastructure for the work of the network. The main activities of this work area will be the establishment of a WWW site (http://www.AgentLink.org/), a newsletter, and email list.
- You can ask to be added to the monthly AgentLink Update mailing list by sending a request to email@example.com.
Q11: What Benefits do Members of AgentLink Get?
AgentLink has funding to support the activities described above. However, this budget is only available to members of the network: we cannot fund any activities by non-members. So the most obvious reason to join is to take advantage of AgentLink's resources. However, the real benefits relate to the both the visibility that you will gain as a member of Europe's coordination action for agent-based computing, and also to the information infrastructure that you will be able to take advantage of. If you are a company with an interest in agent technology, then AgentLink is your best way of keeping up to date with what is going on. A regularly published newsletter, professionally maintained WWW site, email list, and an awareness program - all for no cost - make AgentLink an attractive way of finding out exactly what's happening in the agent world.
Q12: Who is Currently a Member?
AgentLink consists of 131 full member organisations. Members are a mixture of academics doing first-rate agent research, and industrial sites carrying out agent research and development activities. Example industrial members include telecoms giants such as British Telecom, Telfonica, and Broadcom, manufacturing giants such as Siemens, DaimlerChrysler, and Hewlett Packard, and smaller start-up companies.
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Q13: Who Can Join?
The first point to note is that AgentLink is an IST project, and as such, is constrained by the IST rules for membership. This has a number of implications:
- Only legally registered institutions (including universities and companies) can be members --- not individuals.
- If your institute is registered in a member-state of the Europen Union, or in a country which has signed a Science & Technology collaboration Agreement with the EU, then your institute is eligible for membership of AgentLink III.
- Non-European companies can be members of AgentLink II. However, the particular institution that joins must satisfy the membership rules. For example, the European subsidiary of a US Company is eligible to join.
The second point to note is that AgentLink aims to promote excellence in agent R & D, and as such, there are some constraints on who can be a member. In particular, we have two basic rules --- one for academic nodes, and one for industrial/commercial (i.e., non-academic) sites. Crudely, any industrial/commercial site (that satisfies the IST membership rules) doing agent work is eligible to join. Industrial/commercial sites that are not active in the agents area but that are interested in joining can be 'associate' members - having access to the information infrastructure that AgentLink provides, but not necessarily participating in AgentLink events or other activities.
For academic sites, there is a somewhat stricter rule: we require that you demonstrate an active agent research or development programme of high quality. You can demonstrate this in a number of ways: for example, by being a participant in European Commission-funded agent projects, by pointing to a track record of high-quality publications in the agent research literature, or by developing agent software that is in wider use. In an ideal world, we would have sufficient funds to support everyone who wanted to be a member of the network, but reality, as ever, is that funds are finite and we must direct them at those best equipped to make use of them.
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Q14: How do I Apply to Join?
Full information on how to apply is available on the how to apply page.
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you can ask a question directly of the administrative coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.