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Theses Doctoral

Multi-Agent Control in Sociotechnical Systems

Luo, Yu

Process control is essential in chemical engineering and has diverse applications in automation, manufacturing, scheduling, etc. In this cross-disciplinary work, we shift the domain focus from the control of machines to the control of multiple intelligent agents. Our goal is to improve the optimization problem-solving process, such as optimal regulation of emerging technologies, in a multi-agent system. Achieving that improvement would have potential value both within and outside the chemical engineering community. This work also illustrates the possibility of applying process systems engineering techniques, especially process control, beyond chemical plants.
It is very common to observe crowds of individuals solving similar problems with similar information in a largely independent manner. We argue here that the crowds can become more efficient and robust problem-solvers, by partially following the average opinion. This observation runs counter to the widely accepted claim that the wisdom of crowds deteriorates with social influence. The key difference is that individuals are self-interested and hence will reject feedbacks that do not improve their performance. We propose a multi-agent control-theoretic methodology, soft regulation, to model the collective dynamics and compute the degree of social influence, i.e., the level to which one accepts the population feedback, that optimizes the problem-solving performance.
Soft regulation is a modeling language for multi-agent sociotechnical systems. The state-space formulation captures the individual learning process (i.e., open loop dynamics) as well as the influence of the population feedback in a straightforward manner. It can model a diverse set of existing multi-agent dynamics. Through numerical analysis and linear algebra, we attempt to understand the role of feedback in multi-agent collective dynamics, thus achieving multi-agent control in sociotechnical systems.
Our analysis through mathematical proofs, simulations, and a human subject experiment suggests that intelligent individuals, solving the same problem (or similar problems), could do much better by adaptively adjusting their decisions towards the population average. We even discover that the crowd of human subjects could self-organize into a near-optimal setting. This discovery suggests a new coordination mechanism for enhancing individual decision-making. Potential applications include mobile health, urban planning, and policymaking.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Chemical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Venkatasubramanian, Venkat
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 31, 2017