An intriguing and relatively new metaphor in the programming community is that of an intelligent agent. The idea is to view programs as intelligent agents acting on our behalf. By using the metaphor of intelligent agents the programmer views programs as entities which have a mental state consisting of beliefs and goals. The computational behaviour of an agent is explained in terms of the decisions the agent makes on the basis of its mental state. It is assumed that this way of looking at programs may enhance the design and development of complex computational systems.
To support this new style of programming, we propose the agent programming language 3APL. 3APL has a clear and formally defined semantics. The operational semantics of the language is defined by means of transition systems. 3APL is a combination of imperative and logic programming. From imperative programming the language inherits the full range of regular programming constructs, including recursive procedures, and a notion of state-based computation. States of agents, however, are belief or knowledge bases, which are different from the usual variable assignments of imperative programming. From logic programming, the language inherits the proof as computation model as a basic means of computation for querying the belief base of an agent. These features are well-understood and provide a solid basis for a structured agent programming language. Moreover, on top of that 3APL agents use so-called practical reasoning rules which extend the familiar recursive rules of imperative programming in several ways. Practical reasoning rules can be used to monitor and revise the goals of an agent, and provide an agent with reflective capabilities.
Applying the metaphor of intelligent agents means taking a design stance. From this perspective, a program is taken as an entity with a mental state, which acts pro-actively and reactively, and has reflective capabilities. We illustrate how the metaphor of intelligent agents is supported by the programming language. We also discuss the design of control structures for rule-based agent languages. A control structure provides a solution to the problem of which goals and which rules an agent should select. We provide a concrete and intuitive ordering on the practical reasoning rules on which such a selection mechanism can be based. The ordering is based on the metaphor of intelligent agents. Furthermore, we provide a language with a formal semantics for programming control structures. The main idea is not to integrate this language into the agent language itself, but to provide the facilities for programming control structures at a meta level. The operational semantics is accordingly specified at the meta level, by means of a meta transition system.
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