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Toward a Formalization of Ales6 Kub7́k

Emergence Institute of Computer Science

Silesian University
Bezruc.ovo nám. 13
746 01 Opava, Czech Republic

Abstract Emergence is a concept widely used in the Keywords

sciences, the arts, and engineering. Some effort has been Emergence, categorization, multi-
made to formalize it, but it is used in various contexts with agent system, grammar system, for-
different meanings, and a uniŽed theory of emergence is still mal approach
distant. The ultimate goal of a theory of emergence should
include using emergence to model, design, or predict the
behavior of multiagent systems. The author proposes a
formal deŽnition of a basic type of emergence using a
language-theoretic and grammar systems approach. It is
shown which types of phenomena can be modeled in this
sense and what the consequences are for other more
complex phenomena.

1 Previous Work on Emergence

The word “emergence” is new to neither the philosophical nor the scientiŽc literature
(see, e.g., [1, 42, 43]). In the last two decades it has appeared in numerous publications
concerning scientiŽc research on complex systems ([8, 9, 10, 30, 33, 34, 38, 40, 41], to
mention a few).1 The importance of the understanding of emergent phenomena in so-
cial as well as scientiŽc disciplines has led to attempts to conceptualize, formally deŽne,
and categorize emergence. This section will quickly review previous discussions.
Cariani distinguishes three types of emergent phenomena [14]:

² Computational emergence refers to phenomena that can be modeled by traditional

Turing machines or automata and simple computer simulations on single-processor
² Thermodynamic emergence is “the formation of new physical structures in the
world at large” [14, p. 151] and applies to phenomena observed in the world of
(mostly statistical) physics where the macro-states of a studied system are due to its
² The most interesting type of emergence is emergence relative to a model, which
can be summarized as a deviation of the system’s behavior from the observer’s
model of it.

1 A nice (though older) review of the literature with the informal as well as more formal approaches to emergence can be found in
the work of Cariani [14].
2 In our work (if not stated otherwise), we understand the terms “micro-state” or “micro-speciŽcation” as descriptions of the
system elements at some level (mostly the agent level), that is, its static properties and behavior along with the interaction of its
elements, and by “macro-state” the structure or behavior that is observable at the higher level (mostly the multiagent level) of
observation and that is the result of the micro-speciŽcation.

c 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology ArtiŽcial Life 9: 41–65 (2003)
A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

Emergence, relative to a model, is primarily based on Rosen’s concept of emer-

gence [49]. According to Rosen, robotic systems can surpass the limited capacities
of formal-computational systems in producing emergent behavior. In this framework,
formal computational models are non-emergent; adaptive systems (mainly robotic sys-
tems) can be described by the different syntax (parameters and behavioral rules) of
the original description (call this syntactic emergence); and the most complex systems
are evolutionary devices where new observables are needed to cope with changes in
the system (call this semantic emergence). Rosen also proposes a distinction between
combinatoric and creative emergence. The former refers to a new recombination of
existing symbols (e.g., agent properties) in the existing observed system, while the lat-
ter concerns introduction of new primitives (observables) into the system along with
the establishment of their relationship to the previously existing ones [13, 12].
The preceding deŽnitions lack a common basis of comparison. It seems that they
overlap in some way, but it is unclear how. It is questionable whether evolution-
ary systems can produce new primitives and syntactic relationships among them in a
way that computational systems cannot. There is no proof that computational systems
(especially devices with super-Turing power [55]) cannot achieve what evolutionary
systems can do. The power of evolutionary systems, the best example being natural
selection, rests on the fact that these systems consist of massively parallel processes
that try huge numbers of (computational) alternatives over vast time horizons. They
are deŽned in a different manner from traditional Turing machines (in their inputs and
outputs) and differ in the computational complexity of their computing.3 Deviation of
the system’s behavior from the observer’s model is a consequence of these facts. Pre-
vious deŽnitions say nothing about possible general sources of behavior in complex
systems and do not help us constructively to Žnd important sources (if they exist) of
their differentiation.
Baas proposes a formal deŽnition of emergence [4] that can be summarized as fol-
lows. Let us have a family of structures fSi g where i 2 J ( J is some index set), a family of
interactions Int over Si , and an observational mechanism Obs. New higher-level struc-
ture can result from the observation of the given structure at a lower level. For example,
the structure S 2 can be constructed from Si11 ; i1 2 J1 , as follows: S 2 D R.Si11 ; Obs ; Int 1 /,
where R stands for the result of the construction process. Then P is an emergent
property of S 2 iff

P 2 Obs 2 .S 2 /; but P2 2 1
= Obs .Si1 / for all i1 :

In other words, P is a property that is observable at one level but not at a lower level
of description. Baas distinguishes two types of emergent phenomena:

² Deducible, or computable, emergence occurs when there is a deductive or

computational process or theory D such that P 2 Obs 2 .S 2 / can be determined by D
from .Si11 ; Obs 1 ; Int 1 / [4, p. 519]. As examples, Baas mentions thermodynamic
systems and examples from the Želd of mathematics.
² Observational emergence occurs when P cannot be deduced as in the previous
case. Examples include Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, which says that for some
formal systems there can be true statements that cannot be deduced from the
system of existing (known) true statements, and the semantic compositionality in
languages (i.e., where the semantics of a word can be computationally derived
from the semantics of the symbols constituting it).
3 For contemporary ideas on the computational potential of super-Turing machines and the state of the Church-Turing thesis, see
the work of van Leeuwen and Wiedermann [55].

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Baas does not deŽne any of the above-mentioned terms that have only symbolic coun-
terparts (structure, interaction, observational mechanism). These are to be interpreted
by the researcher or the observer of the system. Here the emergence of some property
in the multiagent system is apparent only if it is not observable at the lower level of
observation. This opens the possibility for any multiagent phenomenon to be emer-
gent only because one or more agents are present beyond those at the lower (agent)
level of description [29]. There can be other interesting properties that change only
quantitatively (e.g., time savings [36]) and that cannot be explained by producing new
structure in the studied system. As for Baas’s two types of emergence (deducible and
observational), we think both are of a philosophical nature, because there is no reason
(at least at present) to think that there are phenomena not reducible to micro-macro
relationships. Our ignorance about micro-macro deductions cannot be obviated by
declarations that such deductions do not exist.
Bedau [6, 5] deŽnes weak emergence as follows. Given a system S and its micrody-
namic D that governs the time evolution of S, the “macrostate P of S with microdynamic
D is weakly emergent iff P can be derived from D and S’s external conditions but only
by simulation” [6, p. 378]. This deŽnition, even if not formal, has the potential to cap-
ture the idea of macro-states being derivable from micro-speciŽcation of the system.
We try to elaborate on this idea in our work.
Ronald, Sipper, and Capcarrèrre [47] present a test of emergence consisting of three

1. Design. The goal of this phase is to model the behavior of agents. In a language
L 1 a designer describes individual agents, their environment, and their mutual
2. Observation. The observer who is fully aware of the design describes global
behavior of the multiagent system in a language L 2 distinct from the language L 1.

3. Surprise. This phase indicates the gap between the behavior of individual agents
and the global behavior of the whole society. The causal link between them as
well as between the above-mentioned languages is inobvious to the observer and
is the source of the emergent property of the multiagent system.

This view tries to associate the moment of surprise with the emergent phenomenon.
Emergence consists in the fact that we cannot describe (predict, expect) the behavior
of the whole system from the description of its individual components. Some loosely
depicted categories of emergence phenomena based on the concept of surprise can be
found in [48]. This deŽnition can be related to Rosen’s concept of emergence in that
the system is not reducible to the properties and interactions of the components and it
deviates from the observer’s description of it.
We believe the category of surprise obscures emergent phenomena. As a conse-
quence there is a tendency to consider emergence as a property of the system that
“cannot” be reduced to the lower level of description (i.e., properties of the agents and
their interactions). Another consequence is that one can only describe as emergent
those phenomena for which we lack a satisfactory notion of how they work.
The most profound treatment of emergence, containing many inuential ideas, can
be found in the recent monograph on the subject by Holland [31]. We are inspired by
Holland’s work on four main points:

1. A multiagent system (MAS) approach, the system being decomposable into parts
with autonomous behavior (viz. the agents). Agents are very often characterized by
rule-based behavioral descriptions.

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A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

2. Use of the reduction principle that the macro behavior of an observed system is
reducible to the interactions of its components.
3. Heavy reliance on the fact that the whole system generates richer behavior than the
sum of the behaviors of its components.
4. The inessentiality of the moment of surprise in revealing emergent behavior.

Holland builds models of MASs with inherent emergent phenomena and emphasizes the
importance of formal blocks in the explanation theory of emergence. Building blocks
represent formal pieces of models we build to understand the underlying system. They
have their own states, laws of composition to build more complex structures, laws of
dynamics, and reusability. Holland writes: “Building blocks range from mechanisms
in physics to the way we parse the environment into familiar objects; they provide a
way of extracting repeatable features from the perpetual novelty that attends systems
exhibiting emergece” [31, p. 224]. Basically, agents, their behavioral rules, and their
mutual interactions deŽne complex systems, and this “gives us a common way of
describing the diverse rule-governed systems that exhibit emergence” [31, p. 6].
The rest of the paper is organized as follows. In the next section we outline the
framework for the categorization of emergence, give the informal deŽnition of the most
basic type of emergence in multiagent systems, and elaborate on what the reader should
(and should not) expect from the present work. The third section contains preliminaries
of the formal languages and grammar systems theory necessary for understanding the
deŽnitions used. In the fourth section we present a formal deŽnition of the basic
type of emergence and give arguments why the language-theoretic approach could be
interesting in the study of emergence. In the Žfth section we present some examples of
different types of emergence in multiagent systems and show how our theory can be
applied to modeling multiagent systems formally and how our theory reveals the source
and type of emergence at hand. In the sixth section we discuss how our deŽnition
Žts with other work on emergence, summarize the present work, and present our

2 Emergence in Multiagent Systems

In relation to the study of emergence, the previously described works suffer from one
or more of the following drawbacks:

² They treat emergence in an informal and intuitive manner. This concerns a large
volume of scientiŽc literature where emergence is explained without reference to
any theory of emergence [8, 9, 10, 33, 40].
² The deŽnition heavily depends on the term “surprise” [47, 48].
² The deŽnition either is too broad and so includes phenomena that are not
emergent, or is too strict and so omits phenomena that are emergent [4].
² The categorization is not Žne enough or is based on different criteria so that we are
unable to distinguish among different types of emergence or identify the source of
the emergent behavior [5, 14, 47].
² It does not refer to a uniŽed framework for research on emergence [4, 5, 47].
² It fails to deŽne “sum of the behaviors of individual parts,” a crucial point in
deŽning emergence. We know of no attempt to deŽne this concept.

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A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

² There is no modeling technique to both design and study (analyze) emergent

phenomena (i.e., to capture emergence constructively) in MASs, except computer
simulations. Even by that Želd, no results have been achieved.

We think anything to be called an emergence theory should be guided in the fol-

lowing way:

² Formal treatment. In the beginning, informal discussions are Žne to clarify some
ideas concerning the problem. Nevertheless we ultimately need a formal theory
with well-deŽned meaning that can be used in any context without loss of
precision. Formal deŽnitions are also needed to unify our vocabulary on issues
concerning emergence. Before now there has been no common understanding of
what emergence is, how to study it, or what different types of emergent
phenomena exist.
² Emphasize construction. We need to have a tool to construct models in accordance
with formal deŽnitions of emergence. Only if we are able to build artiŽcial models
of studied systems in a commonly deŽned way can we verify and validate models.
The gap between the language of model construction and a language of model
explanation can be a source of misinterpretations and fallacious deductions.
² Ignore surprise. We think that judging the behavior of complex systems on the
basis of our subjective feeling of surprise is misleading and obscures better
explanations. The standpoint of an observer is different from that of a constructor
(or modeler) in that the former lacks information about the studied system. The
moment of surprise can fade away once sufŽcient information is provided.

In the study of emergence it is important to distinguish different sources of the macro-

behavior, that is, the behavior of the whole observed system that is due to interactions
of agents with each other and with the environment. The sources of emergence thus
can be agent properties, inter-agent interactions, the inuence of the environment on
the agents’ actions, and ongoing evolutionary processes on the part of the agents as
well as the environment. This can happen on various hierarchical levels of organization
of the MAS. Based on this idea, we distinguish these Žve categories of MASs:

1. Agents interact in a static environment. The environment has no active role in the
system and offers no feeback to agents. The behavioral rules of the agents do not
2. The environment plays an active role in the system and directly or indirectly
inuences agents’ actions. Both agents and the environment are non-evolutionary.
3. The agents evolve in a static environment. The agents’ properties and behavioral
rules change with time.
4. The agents evolve in an active environment.
5. Both agents and environment change their behavior (new properties as well as
new behaviors come into existence).

These categories span the simplest to the most complex MASs. Emergence can have
different properties depending on the source of macro-patterns in the system. This, in
turn, implies a natural categorization of different types of emergence.

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Our multiagent modeling paradigm consists of autonomous units—agents—inter-

acting with each other as well as with an environment.4 The agent is an abstraction of
a programming procedure, process, organism, or any other unit that perceives its envi-
ronment with sensors and brings about changes in it by means of effectors. The agent
acts autonomously in order to fulŽll its internal goals (goals can be designed by the
modeler). The agents can be very simple, characterized by reactive (using a memory)
or purely reactive (memory-free) behavior, or they can be more complex, engaged in
reasoning and planning. The most complex category comprises social agents that ne-
gotiate with other agents over conicts or mutual plans. The environment is a common
structure where agents act and interact. It can play an active or a passive role, as men-
tioned above. Sometimes we can look at the environment as a special kind of agent
with global inuence on other agents (e.g., a law-giving body in the human society).
MASs can thus model cellular automata, systems of physical particles, neural networks,
software applications, organisms, ecosystems, economic or other social systems, and
so on.
In this work we present a deŽnition of emergence that is based on a well-known
idea from the literature on emergence [31]. We model it in the context of the simplest
of the MASs described above. We will call this emergence basic emergence. We will
later show how the deŽnition can be extended to more complex types of multiagent
systems. We will show how in the framework of grammar systems it is possible to
study MASs and Žlter out different sources of emergence. But we do not elaborate on
every kind of emergence that can be observed in complex systems. Nor do we provide
a general treatment of evolutionary processes in MASs. Nor do we address the theory
of hierarchies, even though this is an important aspect of emergent phenomena.5
To study ongoing emergent phenomena in MASs we must design a language for
describing agents and environment. The alphabet (or basic blocks) of the language and
its syntax will give rise to constructs by means of which we can describe the behavior
of the whole system. The behavior of the system is an effect of agents’ interactions
with each other and with the environment.
We try to capture emergence both formally and constructively. We propose a way
to model MASs formally and, at the same time, to study their macro-properties. Thus
we can unify the framework for construction as well as the observation and analysis of
The deŽnition proposed below Žts some phenomena that at Žrst glance seem to be
non-emergent because we can describe them adequately with existing methods (e.g.,
differential equations). But we believe, contrary to what many think, that emergence
is not primarily a matter of inexplicability. We hold that there are phenomena that are
emergent even though we understand the internal mechanism that produces them (as
in the case of direct cooperation among agents).

2.1 Informal DeŽ nition of a Basic Emergence

In this section we clarify our deŽnition of basic emergence. We use this deŽnition
to formally deŽne emergent phenomena that are due to agent interactions in the en-
vironment [31]. By basic emergence, we mean behavior reducible to agent-to-agent
interactions without any evolutionary processes involved (i.e., an agent’s behavioral set
stays the same during the modeling and the analysis of the system). The environment
has no rules of behavior and is changed only by the actions of agents. Our deŽnition
thus concerns groups of phenomena that can be modeled by MASs of the Žrst type
listed earlier. In the next sections we try to clarify the idea of a uniŽed model or anal-

4 A good introduction to MASs is presented by Wooldridge [56].

5 Some attempts to address this hard problem can be found in [4, 3, 11, 28, 39].

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ysis approach to a problem of emergence. We treat the basic type of emergence in a

formal framework of language and grammar systems theory.
Let us consider a MAS composed of the environment and some agents. Basic emer-
gence then refers to a property of the system that can be produced by interactions of
its agents (components) with each other and with the environment and cannot be pro-
duced by summing behaviors of individual agents in the environment. In this manner
we can study the effects of pure inter-agent and agent-to-environment interactions. If
we focus on the activity of different parts of the system (agents, environment, evolution,
external stimuli), we can ceteris paribus trace the sources of emergence in the modeled
natural or artiŽcial system. This deŽnition can be extended to cope with more complex
multiagent systems as well.

3 Theory of Formal Languages

Before we deŽne basic emergence formally, we give some requisite notions and deŽ-
nitions from the theory of formal languages and grammar systems.

3.1 Grammar Systems as Formal Models of Multiagent Systems

Formal language theory studies the properties of formal languages that can serve as an
abstract model of a computational device. Every grammar can generate some language
and every language can be generated by some grammar. One of the concerns is
generative power, that is, how to construct the simplest grammars to generate complex
languages and what their relationship is to more general models of computational
devices such as Žnite automata or Turing machines. At present there are a vast number
of different theoretical models of formal languages [51], mostly centered around the
Chomsky hierarchy of formal languages [15]. Every formal language can be generated
by one or more grammars with given features. The grammar can be thought of as a
computational device consisting of a set of rewriting rules that operate on a tape of
symbols. Most of the models of formal grammars distinguish nonterminal and terminal
symbols (those that can and cannot be rewritten). The strings consisting only of terminal
symbols that a grammar can produce are called words, and the language deŽned by a
grammar is simply the set of its words.6
The situation becomes more complex when we consider more than one grammar
operating on one (or more) common tape(s). In this case we talk about the gram-
mar systems. Grammar systems are symbolic devices composed of a set of elements
(grammars) that interact with each other by means of the tape where they rewrite the
symbols. This paradigm can be used to formally model multiagent systems [17]. Several
grammars (thought of as agents) operate on the symbolic tape (the environment) and
bring about changes in it by means of rewriting rules (the behavior of agents). The
grammar system then can be looked upon as a MAS with given properties.
There is a broad range of grammar systems distinguished by their component gram-
mars, the types of their communication, rewriting modes, and the number of tapes
they share. Here the interesting thing is that the whole grammar system can generate
a different language than its components. For elements of formal language theory the
reader is referred for example to [52, 54].

3.2 Chomsky Grammars

Now we give some explanations concerning formal languages and grammar systems.
For a Žnite alphabet V of symbols or letters, by V ¤ we denote the set of all strings over
V . The empty string is denoted by ¸, and V ¤ ¡ f¸g is denoted by V C . The length of a
6 For more on formal language theory the reader is referred to [52, 54].

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A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

string x 2 V ¤ (the number of letters occurring in x ) is denoted by jx j. The number of

symbol occurrences U µ V in x 2 V ¤ is denoted by jx jU . By u ¢ v, where u; v 2 V ¤ , we
denote the operation of string concatenation. In this article we omit the concatenation
symbol ¢ and write uv. A Chomsky grammar [15] is a quadruple

G D .N ; T ; P; S/; (1)

where N is a nonterminal alphabet, T is a terminal alphabet, P is a set of rewriting

rules (productions) in the form x ! y, and S 2 N is an axiom (starting symbol). A
direct derivation in G is denoted by H) or H)G . The transitive and reexive closures
of the relation H) are denoted by H) C and H)¤ , respectively. A language L over
V is a subset of V ¤ . The operations of union, intersection, and complementation are
deŽned over languages as usual. The language generated by G is a construct
¤ ¤
L.G / D fw j S H)G w; w 2 T g: (2)

The elements of the formal language are called strings or words.

3.3 Cooperating Grammar System

A cooperating grammar system (or grammar system for short) is a construct of gram-
mars (agents) mutually rewriting strings of symbols on a common tape [17]. The basic
principles are inspired by distributed problem-solving models with blackboard archi-
tecture. Each agent rewrites a portion of the tape as is usual in the case of individual
agents. Grammars work with different cooperation strategies (how grammars are al-
lowed to rewrite the symbols on the tape and whether they can communicate directly
or not) and modes of derivation (when the process of derivation stops). In some cases
the environment can have its own rewriting rules and inuence the behavior of agents
(these are so-called eco-grammar systems; see, e.g., [19, 20]). It is interesting to study
what kind of language can be generated by the whole grammar system in comparison
with the languages generated by individual grammars.
A grammar system is a formal computational device with a certain generative power
(qualiŽed by the group of languages into which the generated language falls), in some
cases equivalent to a Turing machine. Formally, a cooperating grammar system is a

0 D .N ; T ; S; P1 ; P2 ; : : : ; Pn /; (3)

where N is a nonterminal alphabet, T is a terminal alphabet, S 2 N is a starting symbol,

and P1 ; P2 ; : : : ; Pn are Žnite sets of rewriting rules over N [ T . A basic derivation step
is a relation H) Pi :

x H)Pi y iff
x D x1 ux2 ; y D x1 vx2 ; x1 ; x2 2 .N [ T /¤ ; u ! v 2 Pi :

Then one can deŽne derivations of arbitrary length .H) ¤Pi / and, for k ¸ 1, derivations
¸k ·k
of exactly k steps .H) Dk
Pi / and of at least or at most k steps (H) Pi , H)Pi , respectively),
as well as the maximal derivation:

x H)tPi y iff
x H)¤Pi y and there is no z 2 .N [ T /¤ such that y H)Pi z :

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A basic derivation step in a grammar system deŽnes how a derivation of strings on the
tape proceeds when more than one agent operate over it. Let

F D f¤; t g [ f· k; D k; ¸ k j k ¸ 1g:

For any cooperating grammar system 0 with at most n components and f 2 F , the
language generated by 0 in the cooperative mode f is

¤ f f f
Lf .0/ D fx 2 T j S H) Pi1 x1 H) Pi2 x2 ¢ ¢ ¢ H)Pim xm D x ;
m ¸ 1; 1 · ij · n; 1 · j · m g: (6)

The derivation in a grammar system proceeds in two basic derivation modes: parallel
and sequential mode. If the agents rewrite in a parallel manner, synchronization is
needed, as in discrete devices that share common resources. The agents thus choose
the portion of the string that is to be rewritten, and then the rewriting takes place at
once. The same symbol cannot be rewritten by two or more agents at the same time.
The synchronization presents an internal clock of a grammar system as well as a conict
resolution mechanism. If the agents rewrite in a sequential manner, they do not have
to be synchronized, because at each time tick each agent gets a chance to act over the
tape without conicts.

3.4 Array Grammar System

In the preceding subsection we assumed the use of a one-dimensional tape of symbols.
Here we introduce array grammars, which use a two-dimensional tape instead. Array
grammars can serve as two-dimensional models of the environment. Every symbol on
the tape can be identiŽed by its index in a two-dimensional array of symbols. The array
of symbols can be extended beyond the blank (background) symbols #, and its size
can vary accordingly. The components of an array grammar system are array grammars
that are characterized by the form of their rewriting rules. The left and right sides can
be in the form of an array of symbols. For more about array grammar systems see for
example [21, 24, 26].
Informally an array of symbols is a set of pairs of point coordinates together with the
corresponding symbol placed at that point on the tape. Let Z denote the set of integers,
and let V be an alphabet. Then an array A over V is a function A: Z 2 ! V [ f#g,

support.A/ D fv 2 Z 2 j A.v/ 6D #g (7)

is a set of points with coordinates that do not contain the blank (background) symbol
#2 = V . We can write

A D f.v; A.v/ j v 2 support.A/g: (8)

The set of all two-dimensional nonempty arrays over V will be denoted by V C . Any
subset of V C is called an array language. The arrays are words of array languages.
For an array A 2 V C and a Žnite pattern ® of symbols over V [ f#g, we say that ® is
a subpattern of A if we can superimpose ® on A in such a way that all vectors of ®
marked with symbols from V coincide with the corresponding symbols in A and each
blank symbol # in ® corresponds to a blank symbol # in A.

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An array grammar is a construct

GAr D .N ; T ; #; P; f.v0 ; s/g/; (9)

where N ; T are alphabets composed of nonterminal and terminal symbols, respectively;

# is a blank symbol; P is a Žnite set of rewriting rules ® ! ¯, where ®; ¯ are array
patterns over N [ T [ f#g; and f.v0 ; s/g is a starting array with the starting vector v0 2 Z 2
and the starting symbol S 2 N . For an array grammar GAr D .N ; T ; #; P; f.v0 ; s/g/ and
two words A; B 2 .N [ T /C , we deŽne the relation A H) B to hold if there is a rule
® ! ¯ 2 P such that ® is a subpattern of A and such that B is obtained by replacing ®
in A by ¯. By H)¤ we denote the reexive and transitive closure of H). The language
generated by an array grammar is a construct
C ¤
L.GAr / D fA 2 T j f.v0 ; S/g H) Ag: (10)

A cooperating array grammar system is a cooperating grammar system with array

grammars (grammars with array rewriting rules). Formally it is an .n C 4/-tuple

GS Ar D .N ; T ; #; f.v0 ; S/g; P1 ; P2 ; : : : ; Pn /; (11)

with the components deŽned as above. In a cooperating array grammar system, array
grammars rewrite the tape in a parallel manner in that they do not disturb each other,
that is, one symbol cannot be rewritten by more than one production rule of array
grammars. Formally, for a subset of array grammars GROUP D fAi ; 1 · i · n g and
two arrays D1 ; D2 2 V ¤ [ f#g, a direct derivation step, denoted by D1 H)GROUP D2 ,
exists if and only if there exist array productions pij 2 P i , 1 · i · n, 1 · j · li ( j th rule
of ith array grammar), pij D ®ij ! ¯ij , such that for any array symbol !1 with index
vk , 0 · k · r £ s ¡ 1, r; s 2 Z , that is a subpattern of ¯ij 1 and is not a subpattern of
®ij 1 , and for any array symbol !2 with index vm , 0 · m · r £ s ¡ 1, r; s 2 Z , that is a
subpattern of ¯ij 2 and is not a subpattern of ®ij 2 , it holds that these symbols (areas) are
disjoint (k 6D m).
The previous deŽnition prescribes how a portion of an array tape can be rewritten
in one step by an array grammar system. In each step there is a subset of agents (array
grammars) that try to rewrite a portion of a tape according to their rewriting rules. Our
deŽnition implies that the only condition that must be satisŽed is that the symbol to be
rewritten (as denoted by the right-hand side of the rewriting rule) cannot be rewritten
more than once in one derivation step. This is a means of resource locking shared by
the group of agents. The choice of the agents to rewrite the tape is opportunistic in
that there is no priority among agents.

4 Formal Framework of Emergence

In this section we focus on a formal model of emergent behavior in multiagent systems.

As a Žrst step we give some preliminary deŽnitions necessary for further statements.

4.1 ModiŽ ed Cooperating Grammar System

For our purposes we eliminate some of the restrictions on Chomsky grammars and
make modiŽcations as follows:

² We do not distinguish the categories of terminal and nonterminal symbols, because

the models we would like to use do not strictly suppose that the derivation stops at
some time. In this sense we use so-called “pure” grammars.

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² We introduce agent and environmental symbols to distinguish the elements of

agents and the conditions (changes) they can bring about in the environment. We
denote the alphabet of agent symbols by VA , and the alphabet of environment
symbols by VE .
² We do not restrict agents to perform a speciŽed number of steps on the tape.
² We omit the application of a Žrst rewriting rule (it is not included in the set of
agents’ rewriting rules) that represents rewriting of a starting symbol. Instead we
start with the conŽguration on the tape as a consequence of the Žrst rewriting.

4.2 The Sum of the Agents’ Behaviors

It is very difŽcult to deŽne the sum of the agents’ behaviors in MASs, because there is
no computational tool to do the job. The natural idea would be to enumerate what the
agents can do individually. Thus we can produce a set of words that can be generated
by agents if they do not interact with each other. The union of the agents’ languages
is a candidate for the summation of their behaviors. We modify this idea in that we
propose the superimposition of agents’ languages instead. This can be interpreted as a
sum of conditions the agents can bring about in the environment if they act individually
in the environment. What follows is an attempt to deŽne this idea formally.
Let W1 D a1 a2 ¢ ¢ ¢ an , W2 D b1 b2 ¢ ¢ ¢ bm , and Wsupimp D c1 c2 ¢ ¢ ¢ cl be words of symbols
ai ; bj ; ck , 1 · i · n, 1 · j · m, 1 · k · l over .VA [ VE /C . It holds that l D n iff
n ¸ m, else l D m (the index of the last symbol in the resultant word is the same as the
index of the last symbol in the longer of the two input words). The superimposition
of the word W1 on the word W2 is a function superimpose: [W1 ; W2 ] ! Wsupimp , and
we have:

1. if ai 2 VA then ck D ai ;
2. if ai D ² then ck D bj ;
3. if bj D ² then ck D ai ;
4. if ai 2 VE and bi 2 VE then ck D ai ;
5. if ai 2 VE and bj 2 VA then ck D bj .

We shall write W1 superimpose W2 . For n languages L1 D fW1 2 .VA [ VE /C g, L2 D

fW2 2 .VA [ VE /C g; : : : ; Ln D fWn 2 .VA [ VE /C g their summation is a language that
results from a superimposition over the permutations of n words from the set of n

Lsum D fWsum 2 .VA [ VE /C j Wsum

D W1 superimpose .W2 superimpose .W3 ¢ ¢ ¢ .Wn¡1 superimpose Wn ///
[ ¢¢¢
[ Wn superimpose .Wn¡1 superimpose .Wn¡2 ¢ ¢ ¢ .W2 superimpose W1 ///g:

The deŽnition above states that if we take n-tuples consisting of the words of the
languages the agents generate (each word is from a different language), we can su-
perimpose them in such a way that agent symbols have priority over environmental
symbols (they cannot be covered by the symbols of the environment). Any nonempty
symbol has priority over the symbol ².

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To clarify these deŽnitions, we show a simple example. Consider the alphabet of

agent symbols VA D fa1 ; a2 ; a3 g, the environmental symbols VE D f f; o g, and three
agents generating the following languages. Agent A1 generates the language L1 D
ffa 1 of g, agent A2 generates the language L2 D foa 2 ff g, and agent A3 generates the
language L3 D ffoffa 3 g. Then the summation of the agents’ behaviors will be the

Lsum D ffa 1 ofa 3 ; oa 2 ffa 3 ; fa 1 ffa 3 ; fa 2 ffa 3 g

If we had grammars that could represent agents moving in the environment (two-
dimensional grid tape), the individual languages would contain words containing the
agent symbols and other environmental symbols. The language generated by the su-
perimposition of agents’ languages would contain words composed of possibly all (if
they do not overlap) of the agents’ symbols plus environmental condition symbols.
The operation of superimposition seems to be artiŽcially deŽned. Nevertheless it is
only a slight alteration of the operation of the union of languages to include all of the
agents in the sum of the agents’ behaviors. The superimposition of agents’ languages
is equivalent to the union of languages if the generated strings are of the same length
and we use only one of the agent or environmental symbol sets.

4.3 A Formal DeŽ nition of a Basic Emergence

After a short introduction to basic notions and deŽnitions from the theory of formal
languages, we give a formal deŽnition of basic emergence in this subsection. Let

MAS D .VA ; VE ; A1 ; A2 ; : : : ; An ; S/ (13)

be a MAS modeled by a modiŽed cooperating grammar system in the following way:

VA is an alphabet of agent symbols, VE is an alphabet of the environment, V D VA [ VE
is an alphabet for describing MAS, S is a start description of the environment over V C ,
and A1 ; A2 ; : : : ; An is a Žnite set of agents.
An agent is a construct (pure modiŽed grammar)

Ai D .Vi ; Pi ; Si /; (14)

where Vi µ V is an alphabet of an agent, Si is a start description of an environment,

and Pi is a set of rewriting rules deŽned in the form as follows: The agent can derive
u H) v , where u; v 2 V C , and there is a rule ® ! ¯ 2 Pi such that ® is a subpattern
of A, and B is obtained by replacing ® in A by ¯.
The behavior of an agent Ai is a language generated by an agent and denoted by
C ¤
L.Ai / D fw 2 V j Si H) w g: (15)

The events in the environment (derivation of words on the tape) proceed in MAS in
a parallel (or possibly sequential) manner such that the agents can rewrite the part of
the tape (environment) without disturbing each other. If there are rewriting rules for
agents that have to be applied in parallel, then they cannot rewrite the same symbol at
the same time. Observe that it is not necessary that the left and right sides of rewriting
rules applied in parallel be disjoint.
Let GROUP D fAi j 1 · i · n g. If L.MAS / D fw 2 V C j S H)GROUP w1 H) GROUP
w2 ¢ ¢ ¢ H)GROUP w g is a language generated by MAS, and Lsum is the language generated
by the superimposition of the languages fL1 ; L2 ; : : : ; Ln j 1 · i · n g, then MAS can be

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characterized as having the property of basic emergence iff 9w 2 L.MAS / such that w 2=
Lsum . The deŽnition above states that if the multiagent system as a whole can generate
a language (behavior) that cannot be generated by the superimposition (summation) of
individual agents’ languages (behaviors), we can characterize it as having an emergent
property. Note that we do not compare the union of languages produced by individual
grammars with the language of the unions of grammars. The grammar system is not a
union of grammars.

4.4 Why Grammars

In this subsection we give some arguments supporting our deŽnition of basic emergence
and suggesting why a language-theoretic approach could be interesting in the study of
The developments in the last two decades in distributed computing and decentralized
systems have motivated research on grammar systems. The main contribution is a
formal description and modeling of multiagent systems [17]. Its main advantage is
that it presents us with the common modeling base in that we deŽne the alphabet
and rewriting rules for all the parts of the modeled system and everything else is the
result of rewriting derivations. The micro-structures of the model (the alphabet and
the rewriting rules) lead directly to macro-patterns observable on the system level (the
generated language). We do not have to use two languages for describing the parts and
the wholes, respectively. Rewriting rules is a very natural way to describe the action
of agents, especially in case of reactive agents [31].7
The good thing is that we can extend the model of a MAS along with the deŽnition
of emergence according to the complexity of the system. Thus we can introduce into
the model communication [36], internal structure of the agents (memories, reasoning
mechanisms), or the activity of the environment as in the previously mentioned eco-
grammar systems [16, 19, 20], and at the same time we are not forced to apply all of
the principles inherent in these models. It is possible to change the structure of the
environment to two, three, or even more dimensions.8 In this article the environment
is represented as one tape, because the agents share the environment. It is possible to
divide it so that the agents will act only on some speciŽed portion of the environment. It
is also possible to model internal models (memories) of the agents, as in the blackboard
architecture of distributed systems [18].
Grammar systems are formal devices that can even have the power of a Turing ma-
chine. They are discrete computational models and can easily be rewritten directly into
computer code. Thus, with more complex models it is possible (and often necessary)
to rewrite the grammar model into the computer simulation. The drawback of this so-
lution is the possible loss of power of the formal device. In the future we hope to use
grammar systems in the theory of hierarchies of complex systems where the generated
languages on one level can become parts of the alphabets for the systems on the higher
levels of description. But this is now a very hard problem.
The distinction of agent from environmental symbols and the operation of superim-
position of languages enable us to Žlter out some phenomena that are not emergent in
the sense we present here. This sense can be characterized as the stochastic property
of emergence [35]. The deŽnition of basic emergence above uses the simplest model
of the multiagent system because it is intended to be a basic building block of the fu-
ture uniŽed framework. Also, this way we can show whether basic emergence derives
purely from the interactions of agents.
7 This is the most common type of parts of the observed system from the point of view of emergence, as found in neural networks,
cellular automata, Ž sh schools, chemical systems, and so on.
8 On the deŽ nition of basic types of emergence with modiŽ ed array grammar systems working on the two-dimensional tape and
how it can be used in some of the cases of evolutionary systems, see [36].

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A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

5 Examples of Emergence

In this section we present several examples that illustrate the deŽnitions earlier given.
We give one detailed example of basic emergence occurring in cellular automata. Other
examples are modeled grammatically elsewhere, and we refer the reader to this work in
following subsections. We also present one example to show non-emergent behavior
in a MAS communicating by means of stigmergy.

5.1 Cellular Automata

Cellular automata (CAs) offer a nice example where the grammar system approach
reveals the basic type of emergence. In CAs the state of each cell in a two-dimensional
grid is completely dependent on the state of the neighboring cells (e.g., von Neumann
neighborhood or Moore neighborhood), and the state change occurs discretely at the
same time for each cell. Perhaps the most-cited two-dimensional cellular automaton
is Conway’s game of life (see [7, 27, 44]). Here a cell can be in one of two states—
dead or alive. A dead cell becomes alive if three neighboring cells were just alive, and
otherwise remains dead. A living cell remains alive if two or three neighboring cells
were just alive, and otherwise it dies. These simple rules lead to a variety of spatial
structures that exhibit regularities (or irregularities), depending on the initial state of the
cells.9 We will model the game-of-life CA as a MAS of cells (very simple agents) acting
autonomously according to their rules on the two-dimensional grid (the environment).

5.1.1 A Glider
We concentrate on a grammar analysis of one of the most-cited patterns from the game
of life—the glider. It is a period-four pattern moving diagonally one cell per period.
The game of life will be modeled by the construct10

GA D .VA D fD; Ag; VE D f f g; A1 ; : : : ; A16;

f.v0 ; D/; .v1 ; A/; .v2 ; D/; .v3 ; D/; .v4 ; D/;
.v5 ; D/; .v6 ; A/; .v7 ; D/; .v8 ; A/; .v9 ; A/;
.v10; A/; .v11 ; D/; .v12 ; D/; .v13 ; D/; .v14; D/; .v15; D/g/;

where VA is the set of agent symbols denoting its state (D for dead, A for alive), VE is
the environmental set containing the symbol for a free space (when there is no agent
occupying the cell), A1 ; : : : ; A16 is the set of agents’ behavioral rules, and the set

f.v0 ; D/; .v1 ; A/; .v2 ; D/; .v3 ; D/; .v4 ; D/; .v5 ; D/; .v6 ; A/; .v7 ; D/;
.v8 ; A/; .v9 ; A/; .v10 ; A/; .v11 ; D/; .v12 ; D/; .v13; D/; .v14; D/; .v15 ; D/g

is a starting description of the environment. The environment in this case is modeled

as a 4 £ 4 non-extensible array of cells that forms a torus [we do not use the symbol
#2 = .VA [ VE /]. Every cell in the array has its index and can contain just one agent in
one of the permissible states. The starting array can be spatially represented by the

9 Nice examples and how they relate to emergence can also be found in [6, 31].
10 The size of the environment (tape) can be adjusted arbitrarily.

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following construct:


The set of rewriting rules of each agent is the following:

> f f f f f f f f f f f f
Ai D f A f ! f A f; f D f ! f D f ;
f f f f f f f f f f f f

A A D ! A A D; D A D ! D A D;

A D D ! A D D; D D D ! D D D;
A A D ! A D D; D A D ! D D D;
D D D D D D >
A D D ! A A D; : : : j 1 · i · 16 :

The Žrst two rules mean no change if the agent (in the middle of the grid) is alone in
the environment. The third through sixth rules represent situations in which the agent
remains in the same state as in the previous step. The seventh and eighth rules depict
how the agent can switch from the live to the dead state. The last rule represents the
reverse process—how the agent can become alive. The important point is that each
agent rewrites only one cell at a time, which is different from each other cell, and it
checks only the eight neighboring cells (in the Moore neighborhood). A sequence of
a rewriting process in GA can look like this:

H) H)

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A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

H) H) H)
H) H) H)

H) H) H)

H) H) H)
H) H) H) ¢¢¢:

We can see that in a four-step period we get back the original pattern in a different
place on the tape.11 From the starting conŽguration GA can generate the language
containing the words

> D A D D D D D D D D D D D D D D
<D D A D A D A D D D A D D A D D
D ; ; ; ;
> A A A D D A A D A D A D D D A A
; ; ; ;

11 In our case, some of the patterns are not discernible because of two-dimensional representation of the torus.

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; ; ; ;
D A D D D A D A D A D D A D D D>
A A D A A A D D D A D A D A A D=
; ; ; :
D D D D A D D D A A D D A A D D>>

These words represent the change of the environment in four periods when the agents
change state in parallel. The string pattern made of the symbol A glides diagonally
down the array grid.
Every agent (it is unimportant which state it is in) can generate only the language
containing only one word with the symbol of itself surrounded by the free space sym-
bols, if alone in the environment. The agent occupying the array cell with the 0th12
index can generate the language
8 9
f f f>
<f >
f f f=
L.A1 / D :
> f f f f>>
> >
: ;
f f f f

The agent occupying the cell with the index 5 generates the language
8 9
f f f>
<f >
D f f=
L.A6 / D :
> f f f f>>
> >
: ;
f f f f

If we superimpose the agents’ languages from the initial conŽguration, we get the
8 9
>D A D D>
> >
<D D A D=
Lsum D
>A A A D>>
> >
: ;

that represents the sum of the agents’ behaviors. The original pattern is Žxed and non-
evolving if the agents do not interact with each other because they are alone in the
environment. It is obvious that the language of the whole MAS (GA) is richer than the
superimposed language of the agents. Thus we have a basic emergent property of the
game-of-life model—the glider.

12 This is not an error. The indices of the array start with 0, though the indices of the agents start with 1 for convenient identiŽ cation
of agents.

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5.1.2 Discussion
The glider example nicely illustrates how basic emergence is brought about purely by
the agent-to-agent interactions. The phenomenon depends upon the parallelism of the
agents’ actions that take part in the network-like structure. Note that we could Žnd
rules of interactions in the game of life that do not give rise to emergent patterns (e.g.
if the pattern does not change at all).
We want to reply to some objections that could be raised against the present analysis.
We extended the original CA by one symbol ( f ) representing the environment. It
seems that we violated the conditions in the game of life. This is because we made
a multiagent model of a CA where agents act according to their rules, whereas the
environment is passive. We made a distinction between agents and the environment
in which they act. This is necessary in order to analyze the glider grammatically.
It does not change the game-of-life principle. It just shows that parallel action (not
just any interaction) is necessary in order to produce emergent behavior. If we stick
to the original conŽguration where each cell is occupied by an agent, the game-of-life
principle will stay untouched. Suppose we did not introduce a new (free space) symbol
into the game of life. Let us consider a language that was the sum (superimposition)
of the languages that can be generated by only one agent active on the grid. We still
would not get the richness of the whole game-of-life language.
It is true that the deŽnition of the game of life involves the interaction of agents.
Nevertheless, not every conŽguration reveals an emergent property of the whole sys-
tem. We wanted to demonstrate that emergence in the game of life depends on the
conŽguration of agent states, not on the rules. Our goal was to show how it is possible
to formally study the behavior of a complex system and Žnd out whether it exhibits
emergence. Some conŽgurations of the game of life are stationary, with no agent ever
changing its state. The glider or any other such pattern is interesting because it seems to
be moving. But nothing is really moving. Some patterns are simply more eye-catching
than others. Many more CA rules (not conŽgurations) would produce emergent behav-
ior. We do not know why these or other rules produce this or other “moving patterns”
in certain conŽguration, and we doubt that there is a general law-like answer to this
question. Our analysis shows that in the game of life some conŽgurations are emer-
gent and some are not, and that what matters is conditions in the environment and the
parallel actions of agents.

5.2 Direct Cooperation

Suppose a group of agents gather blocks dispersed in a closed space and collect them
in a home zone. An agent’s holding capacity is 1:5 times greater than the weight of
one block. Suppose they can directly cooperate in that two agents can carry two or
three blocks simultaneously. To represent this system we would use a two-dimensional
tape representing the environment with the home zone, agents, and blocks—the al-
phabet of the grammar system. The generated language would be any situation that
can happen during the execution of the block collecting task. In this experiment we
could observe basic emergence, because direct cooperation can occur if two or more
agents meet and hold the blocks together. The language generated by the whole MAS
would contain words that are not to be generated by the agents individually. The clus-
ters of cooperative agents cannot be generated by the summation of their individual
behaviors, because direct interaction is required.13 In this case the result of the task is
not so interesting for the observer, because it can also be done by any of the agents
individually. Besides the cooperating agents, we can also observe something that could
be called time emergence in that the cooperating agents can gather the blocks in (more

13 For a language-theoretic treatment of this scenario see [36].

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than linearly) decreasing time relative to the number of agents. So two agents can
fulŽll the task in less than half the time it takes for one of the agents to do it alone.
This example need not generate the experience of “surprise” that emergent results of
agents’ interactions often produce in observers. Direct cooperation or communication
in natural as well as artiŽcial multiagent systems is one of the most apparent sources
of emergent behaviors that we can observe.

5.3 Collective Spatial Behavior

Matarić [40] studies collective behavior in a group of robots. The robots are homoge-
neous in that are all governed by the same behavioral rules. They move about in a
closed arena in which pucks are dispersed. In various scenarios Matarić studies macro-
behavior of the robot society that derives from the basic robots’ behaviors considered
in parallel or in sequence. These macro-patterns are not explicitly programmed into
the MAS, and somehow emerge out of the robots’ interactions. We analyzed a simpli-
Žed form of this scenario by modeling robot behaviors by a grammar system with a
stochastic rewriting mode [35]. At every moment the robots choose their actions in a
stochastic manner with a certain probability, not deterministically. The robots generate
a language that represents macro-patterns of their spatial distribution in the environ-
ment. We coded the grammar system into the computer simulation. We computed
the so-called stochastic value of open chains (robots moving a series, one following
another) and closed chains (the robots moving in a cycle). We were interested in the
relationship of micro-patterns and macro-behavior. It appeared that the higher the
stochastic value we ascribed to the leader-follower behavior of each robot, the more
likely was the chain behavior in comparison with other behaviors (especially random
ones). In this experiment it could be shown that the sum of the robots’ behaviors (in
accordance with our deŽnition) corresponds with the language generated by the soci-
ety of the robots. Thus it does not reveal any basic emergent properties. Nevertheless,
macro-behavioral spatial patterns appear with high stochastic values that are directly
derived from the succession in time of robots’ behaviors. This can be called stochastic
emergence. Actually, some spatial patterns (like the robots moving in a cycle) can be
generated over a substantially greater time horizon by randomly moving robots. This is
another example where the ascription of surprise to the observation of MAS properties
is not a good way to understand emergence. What this example teaches us is that in
the behavior of a robot society parallelism is not the critical issue, but the succession
in time of robots’ behaviors is.

5.4 Stigmergy
Finally we give a simple example to illustrate a non-emergent behavior of a MAS. It
will be an example of stigmergic communication inspired by the reactive pheromone
communication of ants and other insects [32].14 In computer engineering, stigmergy
can be designed by dividing functions and data of a computer program into static data
structures representing the environment and methods or functions representing the
agents. The agents only change the state of the environment (data) as a reaction to their
values. They do not use any memory to store the results of their computation. Memory
in this case is represented by the environment with variables. We try to show that
if stigmergy can be simulated by traditional procedural approaches to programming,
where procedures sequentially communicate results of computing process until the
result is obtained or no function calls occur, then there is no emergence in the system.

14 For a thorough treatment of ant algorithms see [23].

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Prog D fVA ; VE ; F; i1 g

be a program with stigmergic computing, where VA D fg is an empty set of agent

symbols, VE D fi1 ; i2 ; : : : ; in ; o1 ; o2 ; : : : ; on g is an evironmental set of input and output
symbols, F D fF1 ; F2 ; : : : ; Fn g is a set of functions operating over data, and i1 is an
initial input to a program. Each function has one of the following forms:

F1 D fVA ; VE ; P1 ; i1 g


Fk D fVA ; VE ; Pk ; ok¡1 g; 2 · k · n;

where the set of agents and environmental symbols VA ; VE is deŽned as above; P1 D

fi1 ! i1 o1 g, Pk D fok¡1 ! ik ; ik ! ik ok g, 2 · k · n, are sets of rewriting rules of
functions (instructions for reacting to a certain input and changing it to an output), and
i1 and ok¡1 are initial input symbols (the output of another function) of a function.
Prog is modeled by a modiŽed grammar system as deŽned in Sections 3 and 4. A one-
dimensional tape of the grammar system represents the environment containing data
(inputs and outputs). The agents (functions) rewrite data according to their rewriting
rules. Every output becomes an input to another function in a sequential manner. We
do not use agent symbols, because functions themselves do not have to be represented
in the environment. The contents of the tape change in the following manner by
applying the rewriting rules of the agents:

i1 H) i1 o1 H) i1 i2 H) i1 i2 o2 H) i1 i2 i3 H) i1 i2 i3 o3 H) ¢ ¢ ¢ H) i1 ¢ ¢ ¢ in on :

The behavior of each function can be represented by the language it generates. The
function F1 generates the language L.F1 / D fi1 ; i1 o1 g. The language of other functions
will be a construct

L.Fk / D fi1 ¢ ¢ ¢ ik¡1 ok¡1 ; i1 ¢ ¢ ¢ ik¡1 ik ; i1 ¢ ¢ ¢ ik¡1 ik ok g; 2 · k · n:

The language of the whole program will be a construct

L.Prog/ D fi1 ; i1 o1 ; : : : ; i1 ¢ ¢ ¢ in¡1 on¡1 ; i1 ¢ ¢ ¢ in ; i1 ¢ ¢ ¢ in on g D L.Fk /:

The language of superimposed function languages will be a construct

Á n
Lsum D L.Fk / [ Lres ;

which is generated by the whole program plus some other words that arise from su-
perimposition of shorter strings over the longer ones (denoted by Lres ).15

15 This example shows that the union of languages is better suited than the superimposition of languages to the design and analysis
of non-spatial behavior. Here the union of function languages coincides with the language of the whole program.

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The whole program thus cannot generate more than the sum of its functions. Stig-
mergy in MASs does not reveal basic emergence if it can be simulated by sequential
processes in a traditional program design. The following is an example of such a sys-
tem. Suppose we have the task of completing a computer from given parts and agents
with very limited capability that take and add a speciŽed part only if they observe that
the computer is in a given phase of the completion. In this case the environmental
tape would be represented by the alphabet of computer parts in the given stage of
the completion. The agents react only to the speciŽed string on the tape and rewrite
it in the sense that they add another part to the computer set. The task is completed
after the last agent has added its part to the computer. The agents communicate only
through the environment by changing speciŽed parameters. The behavior of the MAS
here is nevertheless not in any sense emergent, even if it may appear impressive to the
external observer (who might even attribute cooperative behavior to the agents). The
language analysis discloses that the agents would generate the same words if they acted
over the tape simultaneously. The reason for this is that the MAS in this experiment
could be constructed as one centralized agent with parts that react to the process of
computer completion. This is a traditional model of sequential or procedural comput-
ing where components of a system (procedures) sequentially pass the results of their
computations to each other, possibly generating the desired result (behavior). So com-
munication through the environment can be the source of basic emergent phenomena
but is insufŽcient without other conditions being fulŽlled (e.g., the inherent parallelism
of the interactions).

6 Concluding Remarks

In this article we have tried to design a formal framework for emergence. We speciŽcally
tried to capture the property of a MAS that exhibits behavior not exhibited by summation
of the individual agent behaviors. We formally deŽned the sum of the agents’ behaviors
as the set of the superimposed words the agents generate individually.
We proposed the deŽnition of basic emergence as an alternative to existing concepts
of emergence. We decided to choose grammars and grammar systems as a model of
agents and MASs as well as the environment. Thus, we can use parallel or sequential
modes of rewriting, and every agent can be modeled as a set of rewriting rules. The
deŽnition of basic emergence corresponds to the simplest case of a MAS in which
only agents play an active role in the environment and no evolutionary processes
occur. It is nevertheless possible to model evolving MASs with the aim of observing
other kinds of emergence. It is also possible to consider internal states of agents as
an internal mechanism of decision making with higher levels of rationality. Other
extensions (inter-agent communication, active and more-dimensional environments,
etc.) are possible.
Our idea of basic emergence accords in essence with Holland’s notion of emergence
[31]. It almost coincides with Bedau’s deŽnition of weak emergence [5, 6]. It corre-
sponds in essence with the syntactic or combinatoric concepts of emergence of Cariani
and has the potential to capture Cariani’s concept of creative emergence [14, 13, 12].
We think it is more descriptive than the deŽnition presented by Baas [4] in that it does
not count any property of a MAS that cannot be observed at the level of agents’ descrip-
tion as necessarily emergent. The fact that examples of basic emergence were mostly
(though not necessarily always) due to inter-agent interactions reveals that one of the
following attributes should be present in MASs that are designed to produce emergent

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A. KubÓk Toward a Formalization of Emergence

² direct cooperation among agents,16

² parallel activities that cannot be replaced by sequential actions,
² breaking some limiting or threshold parameters in the system (as in avalanche
effects, mass psychosis, etc.).

The new idea in our approach is to use a uniŽed modeling tool that can cope with
different types of emergence. We propose a uniŽed formal framework that is based on
grammars and the languages they generate.
Still, much has to be done in the study of complex systems in relation to emergence.
We propose that research on hierarchies and architectures in multiagent systems can
shed more light on the formation of emergent structures in these systems (see the
discussion in ArtiŽcial Life [29, 45, 46]). Evolution plays a crucial role in the genesis of
higher structures or components with completely new semantics.
Until now the concept of emergence was in its essence a philosophical concept in
that researchers tried to explain its meaning. There is nevertheless the potential to
use this concept to create new artiŽcial systems from the bottom up if we are able to
describe the system’s behavior on higher semantic levels. How should we design the
properties of the components of the system and their interactions? What role should
the environment play if we expect some desired behavior of the whole system? This
approach could be called emergence-based reverse engineering. It could help us to
design interesting new software or hardware as well as explain how natural systems

The author is indebted to I. Trenc.anský for his fruitful comments during the discussions
that shaped this article in the beginning of the summer of 2000. He is also indebted
to the reviewers who inspired many ideas and thus substantially inuenced the Žnal
version of this paper. Special thanks to M. Bedau for his comments and revisions.

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