The World According To Brahms: Modeling and Simulating Work Practice

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Maarten Sierhuis
Mehdi Dastani, John-Jules Ch. Meyer, Rafael Bordini (eds.)
Daghstuhl Seminar 06261 “Foundations and Practice of Programming Multi-Agent Systems”
26-30 August 2006

Representing how people do work can be done at many different levels. In the knowledge engineering and AI world, people's work has been described in terms of their problem-solving expertise. There, the theory is that we can model people's problem-solving behavior by representing this behavior in a computational model that is able to duplicate some of this behavior. Work process models, such as Petri-Net models of a work process, describe what tasks are performed and when. In workflow models we describe how a specific product "flows" through an organization's work process. This describes the sequential tasks in the work process that "touch" a work-product. All these modeling approaches describe the work in a system at a certain level of detail. However, what is missing from all these types of modeling approaches is a representation of how work gets done. What is missing is a description of the work at the work practice level. Work practice includes those aspects of the work process that make people behave a certain way in a specific situation, and at a specific moment in time. To describe people's situation-specific behavior we need to include those aspects of the situation that explain the influence on the activity behavior of individuals (in contrast with problem-solving behavior), such as: situated activities, agent's beliefs, world facts, tools and artifacts, geography, situational effects on the activities, communication between agents and the use of communication tools, and agent reasoning.

Brahms is a tool for modeling and simulating the way people work and collaborate, and use systems to accomplish their tasks. Brahms can be used to describe current and future work processes and practices in human and other types of organizations. Another application of Brahms is to design the collaborative activities between multiple intelligent agents - human and software agents.

Brahms consists of a number of tools to develop simulation models of the activities and collaboration of multiple agents:

  • A multi-agent modeling language for modeling agents
  • A multi-agent discrete-event simulation engine for executing (i.e. simulation or real-time execution) Brahms models
  • A relational simulation history database for capturing the data from a simulation for later analysis
  • A multi-agent time-line view of the activities of agents, including the communication interaction between agents

With Brahms we can model and simulate how people and systems work and interact. There are many tools and languages for describing and designing the formal specification of system behavior. However, there are not many systems that are able to describe the intelligent and social behavior of humans, as well as the cooperative and collaborative behavior between humans and systems, and the situational interaction with the environment. The Brahms environment includes aspects of human and system behavior and interaction. This means that with Brahms we can model and simulate how things happen in the real world. With Brahms it is possible to use a formal modeling and simulation approach as an analysis and design methodology in the development of Cooperative Multi- Agent Systems.

In this talk, I will cover the theoretical underpinnings of Brahms, as well as explain the representational capabilities of the language, by using examples from my Human-Centered Computing research at NASA Ames Research Center.