Putting the magic in the machine since 1980.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

NSF Award for Negotiation Networks Research

I am honored to have just received NSF award 0829580 to continue my research into negotiation networks. The total award is for $234K over the next 3 years. This research is under the Theoretical Foundations program, and the Scientific Foundations of the Internet's Next Generation (SING) sub-topic.

We hope that our research will lay the scientific foundations for the Internet's next generation of protocols and deployment strategies. The project summary of theproposal explains our goals:

We propose to develop automated negotiation protocols for autonomous agents in negotiation networks, which we define as a type of bargaining problem where every agent must negotiate with a fixed set of other agents in order to arrive at a unique deal. Negotiation networks are, in effect, a natural re-formulation of a winner determination in combinatorial auctions problem as a negotiation problem. They thereby distribute the costly winner determination computation among the agents and avoid the need for unnecessary exchange of currency or trusting of third parties.

Intellectual merit: Since the problem of negotiation networks combines features of characteristic form games and bargaining games from game theory, combinatorial auctions and distributed mechanism design from Economics, network exchange theory from Sociology, and distributed algorithm design from computer science, its solution should be a significant contribution to all these fields. While several parts of the proposed problem have been studied in the various disciplines, we will bring these disparate parts within one framework and provide solutions for this very important problem. Our approach is fresh in that we focus on algorithmic solutions for the dynamic, distributed problem of resource allocation among self-interested parties, in contrast with game theory and Economics' solutions which are typically steady-state axiomatic solutions. Success in this research is potentially transformative as it will provide the foundation for the engineering of protocols and efficient algorithms for distributed resource allocation, which is a pervasive problem in our ever-growing highly-interconnected society.

Broader impacts: The negotiation networks problem is not only significant from a research perspective, it also has some very immediate applications. One such application is the multiagent enactment of workflows for the growing SOAP and REST-based (Web Services) service Internet where complex tasks are dynamically and automatically bid for and allocated among arbitrarily large number of agents. Such systems would revolutionize just-in-time manufacturing and purchasing practices by automating not only the paperwork but also the allocation of resources and contract negotiation. Another near-term application lies in the development of incentive-compatible routing mechanism for the new Internet which would provide the proper incentives for companies to deploy more bandwidth and to make their existing bandwidth available to others without having to worry about freeloaders. Further down the road, negotiation networks could even eliminate the need for predefined workflows and lead to much more efficient and dynamic allocation of resources in our economy. These adaptive supply chains would be resilient to local failures and attacks as they dynamically re-negotiate deals in response to environmental changes. In fact, with slight modifications these distributed resource allocation algorithms could be used to coordinate first-responders in an emergency situation, to program distributed environmental sensor networks, and to instruct automated robotic swarms.