Document Type


Subject Area(s)

Computer Science and Engineering


Most of us will soon be managing an intranet in our homes, though we might not realize it. We might also be surprised at the devices that will be networked together. Just about every electrical device now contains one or more microprocessors. Designers typically find this a cost-effective way to provide device functionality, even when much of a processor's power is unnecessary or unused. For example, my coffee maker contains a processor, even though the appliance needn't be very smart and wastes most of its CPU cycles. Nevertheless, it is cheaper to include a general-purpose microprocessor than to incorporate custom logic devices. My kitchen, in fact, has at least six processors, in such appliances as the microwave, the dishwasher, and the toaster. These household devices are diverse and use their processors in quite different ways, but in the future they will share one important characteristic: Each will contain an agent. The agent will provide an intelligent interface to the device and, most importantly, will communicate with other devices in my home. At present, my devices are not very agent-like, and it is not useful to think, “My toaster knows when the toast is done” or “My coffee pot knows when the coffee is ready.” However, once the devices are interconnected so that they can communicate, they can arrange to have my coffee and toast ready at approximately the same time. Then I may think of them in anthropomorphic terms. For example, when I shut off my alarm clock, I can imagine it telling my kitchen devices to prepare my breakfast. When devices talk to each other, they begin to seem more like agents. At: this point my house becomes more than just a collection of processors-it becomes a multiagent system communicating over an intranet.


© 1999 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)