The multi-agent system (MAS) paradigm has become a prominent approach in distributed artificial intelligence. Many real-world applications of MAS require ensuring cooperative outcomes in scenarios populated with self-interested agents. Following this concern, a strong research emphasis has been given recently to normative MAS. A major application area of MAS technology is e-business automation, including the establishment and operation of business relationships and the formation of virtual organizations (VOs). One of the key factors influencing the adoption of agent-based approaches in real-world business scenarios is trust. The concept of an electronic institution (EI) has been proposed as a means to provide a regulated and trustable environment, by enforcing norms of behavior and by providing specific services for smooth inter-operability. This chapter exposes our work towards the development of an agent-based EI providing a virtual normative environment that assists and regulates the creation and operation of VOs through contract-related services. It includes a presentation of the EI framework, knowledge representation structures for norms in contracts, and a description of two main institutional services, namely negotiation mediation and contract monitoring.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Multi-Agent System: A system where multiple agents interact.
Normative Multi-Agent System: A set of interacting agents whose behavior can be regarded as governed by norms.
Norm: A prescription of behavior.
Electronic Institution: A software platform providing a set of contract-related services for agent interaction and a normative environment for enforcing contracts.
Role: A set of normative expectations and empowerments.
Agent: A goal-directed entity capable of interacting with the surrounding environment in an autonomous fashion; a software program representing an individual business entity.
Virtual Organization: A consortium of organizations (enterprises) that align their businesses to perform integrated and more complex activities.
Contract: An explicit formulation of agents’ commitments.
Cooperation Agreement: A contract with an ongoing nature, regulating a virtual organization relationship that exists for a period of time.