Evaluating Risk: Flexibility and Feasibility in Multi-Agent Contracting

Date of Submission: 
January 9, 1999
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In an automated contracting environment, where a "customer" agent must negotiate with other self-interested "supplier" agents in order to execute its plans, there is a trade-off between giving the suppliers sufficient flexibility to incorporate the requirements of the customer's call-for-bids into their own resource schedules, and ensuring the customer that any bids received can be composed into a feasible plan. In this paper, we introduce a bid evaluation process that incorporates cost, task coverage, temporal feasibility, and risk estimation. Using this evaluation process, we provide an empirical study of the trade-offs between flexibility, plan feasibility, and cost in the context of our MAGNET multi-agent contracting market infrastructure. Our experimental results demonstrate that the advantage of increasing supplier flexibilty is dependent on the number of available suppliers. In other words, if the number of suppliers is small, the risk of plan nfeasibility outweighs the advantage of added flexibility. On the other hand, if the numer of suppliers is large, the more flexibile plan specifications result in lower-risk plans.