I just recently attended the AAMAS (2015 conference in Istanbul, Turkey. One of the key topics I wanted to explore (again), is how to encourage adoption of autonomous agent and multiagent technology by industry practitioners. There were many others who were equally interested in this same topic.
Milind Tambe chaired a very interesting discussion panel on that very topic the first afternoon. This is not a case theory vs practice. There was wide agreement that AAMAS is, and should be, focused on both theoretical and practical aspects of these technologies.
Michael Wooldridge said we shouldn’t kid ourselves. There are built-in incentives throughout the academic system that naturally encourage more theoretical work. And AAMAS members are unlikely to significantly modify those incentives.
There was also general agreement that AAMAS should encourage more industrial participation. But Paul Scerri, who has done a quite a bit of practical application, noted that most of the application-oriented papers he’s submitted in past get rejected. His rejection comments included:
- need more detail on <blank>: 8 pages in not enough room to cover even a 2nd level of detail on a running system
- not novel: practical instantiations of technology seldom include novel elements. They are primarily trying to combine multiple elements from others into a working whole.
- No statistical significance: the primary test for most practical applications (particularly first generation ones) is whether they work or not. Statistical significance is not a critical aspect.
- Why didn’t you use <blank>: Again, the goal of most practical applications is to get them to work reasonably well. Detailed architectural or technology trade-off discussions are secondary.
In short, Paul compared the time and effort he invested into his submitted papers and succinctly concluded
EU(not submit) > EU(submit)
Sarit Kraus talked about the time she did an radio or TV (?) interview about one of her applications. Afterwards, multiple people came up to her saying “I have a similar problem“. Some of the problems were similar; some where not that similar, but it at least got a problem-owner talking with a potential problem-solver. Promoting a variety of MAS applications to the public, in the hopes of eliciting a “similar problem” response, seems like a very effective way to communicate capabilities and encourage more agent adoption. Therefore, we should spend more time describing example applications, both at AAMAS and through other forums.
I have often been correctly described as more “solution driven” (a solution seeking a problem) rather than “problem driven” (a problem seeking a solution). But, in technologies that require deep skills, like ours, “solution driven” approaches are likely to be more effective than “problem driven” approaches.
It seems to me, a separate conference or workshop, focused specifically on industrial application, would be beneficial. The paper reviews should focus on practical aspects, not theoretical ones. It should be concurrent with AAMAS to encourage cross-pollination between theory and practice. I know this has been tried before at AAMAS. We have to figure out how to encourage practitioners to attend. So … what do practitioners want from AAMAS? I assert many want tools, techniques and information that they can apply fairly quickly and easily. Sure, practitioners are probably also on the lookout for a few longer-term, “big ideas”. But most of the material needs to be as readily accessible and as ready to apply as possible. For example, downloadable toolkits and sample test datasets.
Just my two cents. What do you think?