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Section: Research Program

Understanding and mastering complex systems

General context

There exist numerous examples of natural and artificial systems where self-organization and emergence occur. Such systems are composed of a set of simple entities interacting in a shared environment and exhibit complex collective behaviors resulting from the interactions of the local (or individual) behaviors of these entities. The properties that they exhibit, for instance robustness, explain why their study has been growing, both in the academic and the industrial field. They are found in a wide panel of fields such as sociology (opinion dynamics in social networks), ecology (population dynamics), economy (financial markets, consumer behaviors), ethology (swarm intelligence, collective motion), cellular biology (cells/organ), computer networks (ad-hoc or P2P networks), etc.

More precisely, the systems we are interested in are characterized by:

We now describe the type of models that are studied in our group.

Multi-agent models

We represent these complex systems with reactive multi-agent systems (RMAS). Multi-agent systems are defined by a set of reactive agents, an environment, a set of interactions between agents and a resulting organization. They are characterized by a decentralized control shared among agents: each agent has an internal state, has access to local observations and influences the system through stimulus response rules. Thus, the collective behavior results from individual simplicity and successive actions and interactions of agents through the environment.

Reactive multi-agent systems present several advantages for modeling complex systems

By proposing two different levels of description, the local level of the agents and the global level of the phenomenon, and several execution models, multi-agent systems constitute an interesting tool to study the link between local and global properties.

Despite a widespread use of multi-agent systems, their framework still needs many improvements to be fully accessible to computer scientists from various backgrounds. For instance, there is no generic model to mathematically define a reactive multi-agent system and to describe its interactions. This situation is in contrast with the field of cellular automata, for instance, and underlines that a unification of multi-agent systems under a general framework is a question that still remains to be tackled. We now list the different challenges that, in part, contribute to such an objective.

Current challenges

Our work is structured around the following challenges that combine both theoretical and experimental approaches.

Providing formal frameworks

A widespread and consensual formal definition of a multi-agent system is lacking. Our research aims at translating the concepts from the field of complex systems into the multi-agent systems framework.

One objective of this research is to remove the potential ambiguities that can appear if one describes a system without explicitly formulating each aspect of the simulation framework. As a benefit, the reproduction of experiments is facilitated. Moreover, this approach is intended to gain a better insight of the self-organization properties of the systems.

Another important question consists in monitoring the evolution of complex systems. Our objective is to provide some quantitative characteristics of the system such as local or global stability, robustness, complexity, etc. Describing our models as dynamical systems leads us to use specific tools of this mathematical theory as well as statistical tools.

Controlling complex dynamical system

Since there is no central control of our systems, one question of interest is to know under which conditions it is possible to guarantee a given property when the system is subject to perturbations. We tackle this issue by designing exogenous control architectures where control actions are envisaged as perturbations in the system. As a consequence, we seek to develop control mechanisms that can change the global behavior of a system without modifying the agent behavior (and not violating the autonomy property).

Designing systems

The aim is to design individual behaviors and interactions in order to produce a desired collective output. This output can be a collective pattern to reproduce in case of simulation of natural systems. In that case, from individual behaviors and interactions we study if (and how) the collective pattern is produced. We also tackle “inverse problems” (decentralized gathering problem, density classification problem, etc.) which consist in finding individual behaviors in order to solve a given problem.