This is the pragmatic branch of DAI (Distributed Artificial Intelligence) that examines ways of building software systems on the paradigm of Agents.
The following FAQ is meant as a basic introduction to this concept:
Q: What is an Agent anyway?
A: The term 'Agent' is derived from latin 'agens' which denotes a driving force or acting entity. Basically an Agent is a program with extra properties that make it more intelligent, mobile or user-aware. According to their most prominent feature a variety of Agents can be distinguished such as a MobileAgent, IntelligentAgent (sometimes referred to as Belief Desire Intention Agent), AutonomousAgent and UserAgent. It is not always easy to make this dinstinction, since todays AgentSystems often mix some of the above features.
Q: How can I decide when it is an Agent and when it is a program?
A: There's a good paper on this question, I can heartily recommend for reading: 'Is it an Agent, or just a Program? - An Taxonomy for Autonomous Agents'.
Q: What good is a program that moves across a network, when you can just as easily use RPC like RMI or CORBA?
A: Again I can recommend a paper on this question: 'Mobile Agents - Are they a good idea?' from IBM Resarch Division.
Q: What do you mean by an Agent being 'intelligent'?
A: The 'intelligence' of an IntelligentAgent refers to a certain kind of knowledge it has of it's environment and it's internal state, such as it's task, it's goal (intention), it's abilities (and also it's inabilities). It also refers to the way it communicates with it's environment, other Agents or a human user.
Q: What has all this to do with JOS?
A: As the computer world becomes more and more 'interconnected' there's a shift in how software is designed from 'One-Station-Does-It-All' over 'Client-Server' and 'Three-Tier-Architecture' to 'Distributed-Objects'. Agents are not so new in theory but with a look at how software can be distributed, they offer a fairly new perspective to the design of software-systems (especially large systems!). Since JOS is supposed to be a new and revolutionary OS we should consider as much future technology as possible in the it's design. At the DistributedGroup we discuss ways of integrating Distribution and AgentTechnology into the very core of JOS.
Q: I'm hooked, where can I find out more about this fascinating technology?
A: Take a holiday for the next couple of months and delve into AgentReadings.
I hope that suffices as a basic introduction and recommend that you visit here more often, as I will add more information as time permits.