CMSC 491M/691M

Agent Architectures and Multi-Agent Systems - Spring 2003

Last updated 1/23/03


Prof. Marie desJardins
ECS 216
(410) 455-3967 / fax (410) 455-3969

Course Description

This class focuses on fundamental techniques for developing intelligent agents and multi-agent systems. In the first part of the class, we will study a wide variety of architectures for building intelligent agents, including cognitive, logic-based, reactive, and belief-desire-intention architectures. We will read, discuss, and compare research papers on each of the models. In the second part of the class, we will learn about key issues in designing and implementing multi-agent systems, including inter-agent communication languages and protocols, distributed problem solving, planning, and constraint satisfaction methods, distributed models of rational behavior, and learning and adaptation in multi-agent systems.

When and Where

CMSC 491M/691M will meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:30-4:15 in Physics 107.


CMSC 471 or CMSC 671. (Undergraduates must have the permission of the instructor to enroll.)


  1. A variety of technical papers throughout the course. Links to online versions of most papers can be found in the syllabus. The other papers will be handed out in class.
  2. Multiagent Systems: A Modern Approach to Distributed Artificial Intelligence, Gerhard Weiss, ed., MIT Press, 1999. ISBN 0-262-23203-0. Available at the bookstore.


This syllabus and course schedule are subject to change.


I am a strong believer in two-way communication. I expect all students to participate in classroom discussions, both by asking questions and by expressing opinions. Each student will be expected to maintain a bibliography and journal of papers read, to prepare answers to questions on the reading for each class, and to lead at least one classroom discussion.

In return, I will make myself available to answer questions, listen to concerns, and talk to any student about topics related to the class (or not). As a seminar class, you should expect that the format and content of the course will change over the semester. I welcome your feedback about how the course is going.

In addition to regular office hours, I maintain a semi-open-door policy: you should feel to stop by to ask questions, or just say hello, whenever my door is open (which it generally will be unless I am out of the office, in a meeting, or deep in thought). (I'm not that great at remembering names, so please don't be offended if I ask you several times to re-introduce yourself!) I will also make a concerted effort to answer e-mail within 24 hours.

Coursework and Grading

Course grades will be based on class participation (participating in and leading discussions), a reading journal, two projects/papers, a paper review, and possibly one to two problem sets. There will not be any exams.
Class discussion  35%
Discussion leading 5%
Reading journal 5%
Agent architectures project 25%
Multi-agent systems paper/project 25%
Paper review 5%

Class participation (40% total). This class is a seminar, designed not only to teach the students about agent architectures and multi-agent systems, but to hone your skills in reading and evaluating technical papers, discussing and comparing different approaches, and applying these methods in practice. This course format demands that all students participate actively in class discussions (35%). (Students who are not comfortable speaking up in a class, and who do not wish to improve their skills in "public" speaking, should probably not take this class!) Students are expected to read the assigned papers or chapters prior to each class. A set of discussion questions/topics will be assigned for each paper.

Most classes will be primarily discussion sessions. For these classes, there will be an assigned discussion leader (5%). The discussion leader is expected to prepare a brief (5- to 10-minute) summary of the key points of the assigned reading, and then lead the discussion, guided by the discussion questions. Your grade as discussion leader will be based primarily on your summary presentation.

Reading journal (5%). Each student will be asked to maintain a reading journal, which must be kept up to date throughout the semester. I will spot-check the reading journals periodically.

Agent architectures project (25%). For the Agent Architectures part of the class, each student will be required to download the public-domain version of one of the implemented architectures we will study, identify additional reading beyond the assigned papers on that architecture, apply the software to a new application domain, demonstrate the application, and write a report about their project. Students may work individually or in teams of two or three on these projects. (Students and/or teams working on the same architecture are encouraged to share the work of downloading and finding papers on the architecture, even if they do separate projects.) A proposal for your project will be due on 2/19 (5% of project grade); the project report will be due on 3/19 (70%); and demonstrations will be given to the instructor during the week of 3/17 (25%).

MAS project/paper (25%). In the Multi-Agent Systems part of the class, students will study one of the topics in greater depth and write a term paper or do an implementation project. A proposal and bibliography will be due on 4/14 (10% of project grade); a draft report will be due on 5/5 (5%); a presentation will be made to the class on 5/7 or 5/12 (20%)  and the final report will be due on 5/16 (65%). For students who choose an implementation project, you should schedule a demonstration for Dr. desJardins during the week of 5/12.

Paper review (5%). Each student will be randomly assigned another student's draft MAS project report to review and comment on.  This will give you an opportunity to learn more about that student's topic, and also a chance to gain hands-on experience with the reviewing process for technical papers. We will discuss the criteria for a "high-quality" review prior to this exercise. The review will be due on 5/12 (one week after the draft reports are submitted).

Late policy. Late assignments will only be accepted if an extension is requested and granted in advance.

Academic Honesty

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC's scholarly community, in which everyone's academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty.  Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal.  To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory. [Statement adopted by UMBC's Undergraduate Council and Provost's Office.]

All students must read, understand, and follow the CMSC 691M course policy on academic honesty. Each student will be asked to sign a copy of the academic honesty/grading policy, indicating that they have read and understood it.

Cheating in any form will not be tolerated. In particular, all assignments are to be your own work. You may discuss the assignments with anyone. However, any help you receive must be documented. At the beginning of each assignment, you must include a comment indicating the sources you used while working on it (excluding course staff and text), and the type of help you received from them. Failure to include such a statement will result in the assignment being returned ungraded. You may resubmit such a returned assignment once over the course of the semester.

Written answers on class reports must be your own work. If you wish to quote a source, you must do so explicitly, using quotation marks and proper citation at the point of the quote. Plagiarism (copying) of any source, including another student's work, is not acceptable and will result in at a minimum a zero grade for the entire assignment. A useful guideline is that if more than two or three words in a row are the same in your report as in the original source, you have plagiarized. (Even in your reading journals, you should indicate which notes are direct quotes and which are your own words; this is a good habit to get into, so that if you ever write a passage based on your notes, you don't unintentionally plagiarize the original source.) gives an excellent overview of how to correctly cite a source. has guidelines on acceptable paraphrasing.

491M/691M Mailing List

There will be a class mailing list,, to which you should subscribe by sending an e-mail to with a blank subject line and containing the following line:
subscribe agents-class Your Name
Class announcements and discussion of assignments will be posted on this list. You can also send messages to the list to ask questions of your fellow students and/or professor.

General questions (i.e., anything that another student may also be wondering about) should be sent to the list, so that everyone will be able to benefit from the answers. Students are welcome to post answers to questions, even if the questions were directed at the course staff. Individual concerns, questions about grades, and the like should be sent to Prof. desJardins rather than the list.