Contracting Tasks in Multi-Agent Environments

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Agents may contract some of their tasks to other agent even when they do not share a common goal. An agent may try to contract some of the tasks that it cannot perform by itself, or that may be performed more efficiently by other agents. One self-motivated agent may convince another self-motivated agent to help it with its task, by promises of rewards, even if the agents are not assumed to be benevolent. We propose techniques that provide efficient ways to reach contracting in varied situations: the agents have full information about the environment and each other or subcontracting when the agents do not know the exact state of the world. We consider situations of repeated encounters, cases of asymmetric information, situations where the agents lack information about each other, and cases where an agent subcontracts a task to a group of agents. Situations where there is competition among possible contracted agents or possible contracting agents are also considered. In all situations we would like the contracted agent to carry out the task efficiently without the need of close supervision by the contracting agent. (Also cross-referenced as UMIACS-TR-94-44)