Australian cyber soldiers to boost British defence forces

July 15, 2003

An Australian team is poised to send agents with all the human frailties into Britain's armed forces to improve their performance in both peacekeeping and combat situations.

A University of Melbourne postdoctoral student will help an Australian company, Agent Orientated Software (AOS), to develop computer software agents for Britain's Ministry of Defence (MoD) that will better model real human behaviour.

The MoD awarded the contract to AOS early this year. Emma Norling, in the University's Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering, says Australia is at the forefront of agent technology and that, once developed, these new agents will be state-of-the-art in the area of simulated human behaviour.

Norling will present a poster on her related research into human decision making, recently completed as part of her PhD, at the international conference on Autonomous Agents and Multi-agent Systems (AAMAS) conference in Melbourne this week (14-18 (July).

Norling's research for the MoD will be an extension of her PhD research and will aim to inject more life-like behaviour into computer-generated forces.

"Military forces need better behavioural models for training and analysis," says Norling.

"Current agents or simulation software follow a particular doctrine. The problem is humans don't always follow doctrine," she says.

Agents can represent individual soldiers, whole platoons, even ships, but they need to model real military doctrine and tactics as well as the human traits of soldiers.

"Humans tend to make decisions based on experience. We don't necessarily weigh up all the options and take the best one. We tend to take the option we think will work best based on past experience. These decisions are often influenced by other environmental factors such as fatigue, emotions, morale or other psychological and physiological factors.

"Military commanders are trained to weigh up all the options, but studies show they also use experienced-based decision-making processes."

Norling's research in this project will develop a framework for agents that incorporate the varying human frailties such as fatigue, emotions, the influence of stimulants such as caffeine, jet lag, even fear and desertion.

"The modeling capabilities of such agents have potential application in areas other than defence, for example, coastal surveillance, peace-keeping and equipment evaluation," says Norling.

AOS has close links with the University of Melbourne, co-locating staff within the University through joint research and development activity. They are currently supporting three PhD student projects in the University through Australian Research Council Linkage grants.

The AOS Group was first established in Australia in 1997 to develop and market JACK Intelligent Agents™, an intelligent agent software infrastructure and wholly owned by developed by the AOS Group. It is the JACK Intelligent Agents™ that Norling's research will be developed around.

The contract was won by Agent Oriented Software Limited (AOS Limited), the UK company and part of the Agent Oriented Software Group (AOS Group). Agent Oriented Software Pty Ltd is the Australian company in the group, and also owns the UK and USA based companies (AOS, Inc).

AOS is the prime contractor in the MoD project, called 'Human Variability in Computer Generated Forces'. The University of Melbourne, QinetiQ Limited and Pennsylvania State University are sub-contractors.


An agent is an autonomous and self-sufficient problem solving entity that can make rational decisions in dynamic environments such as air-traffic control, or weather forecasting.

Their decision-making capabilities enable them, in many senses, to reason about their environment and proactively control or affect it to achieve their defined goals.

But agents do not work alone. They exchange information between each other and react accordingly, often mimicking a human response to changes in their environment.

University of Melbourne

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