Computer Science Department
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Layered Learning in Multi-Agent Systems

Peter Stone

December 1998

Ph.D. Thesis

Keywords: Multi-agent systems, machine learning, multi-agent learning, control learning, hierarchical learning, reinforcement learning, decision tree learning, neural networks, robotic soccer, network routing

Multi-agent systems in complex, real-time domains require agents to act effectively both autonomously and as part of a team. This dissertation addresses multi-agent systems consisting of teams of autonomous agents acting in real-time, noisy, collaborative, and adversarial environments. Because of the inherent complexity of this type of multi-agent system, this thesis investigates the use of machine learning within multi-agent systems. The dissertation makes four main contributions to the fields of Machine Learning and Multi-Agent Systems.

First, the thesis defines a team member agent architecture within which a flexible team structure is presented, allowing agents to decompose the task space into flexible roles and allowing them to smoothly switch roles while acting. Team organization is achieved by the introduction of a locker-room agreement as collection of conventions followed by all team members. It defines agent roles, team formations, and pre-compiled multi-agent plans. In addition, the team member agent architecture includes a communication paradigm for domains with single-channel, low-bandwidth, unreliable communication. The communication paradigm facilitates team coordination while being robust to lost messages and active interference from opponents.

Second, the thesis introduces layered learning, a general-purpose machine learning paradigm for complex domains in which learning a mapping directly from agents' sensors to their actuators is intractable. Given a hierarchical task decomposition, layered learning allows for learning at each level of the hierarchy, with learning at each level directly affecting learning at the next higher level.

Third, the thesis introduces a new multi-agent reinforcement learning algorithm, namely team-partitioned, opaque-transition reinforcement learning (TPOT-RL). TPOT-RL is designed for domains in which agents cannot necessarily observe the state changes when other team members act. It exploits local, action-dependent features to aggressively generalize its input representation for learning and partitions the task among the agents, allowing them to simultaneously learn collaborative policies by observing the long-term effects of their actions.

Fourth, the thesis contributes a fully functioning multi-agent system that incorporates learning in a real-time, noisy domain with teammates and adversaries. Detailed algorithmic descriptions of the agents' behaviors as well as their source code are included in the thesis.

Empirical results validate all four contributions within the simulated robotic soccer domain. The generality of the contributions is verified by applying them to the real robotic soccer, and network routing domains. Ultimately, this dissertation demonstrates that by learning portions of their cognitive processes, selectively communicating, and coordinating their behaviors via common knowledge, a group of independent agents can work towards a common goal in a complex, real-time, noisy, collaborative, and adversarial environment.

253 pages

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