Intelligent Entities: Principals, Agents, and Assistants

  1. Intelligent entities. These can be people or machines. Capable of thought and organized behavior. They may be highly intelligent or just barely or anything between.
  2. Principals. These are the entities which have true autonomy, free to do whatever they want. They don’t have bosses, but they may have customers, clients, and users. They have some larger mission or purpose, which causes them to define and pursue objectives, resulting in goals and tasks which they seek to offload or delegate to others, namely agents and assistants, so that they can achieve something larger than their personal, individual efforts.
  3. Agents. They do the actual work of principals, limited only by their contractual obligations to those principals, known as goals, but otherwise are free organize their time and efforts to achieve their principal’s goals as they see fit. They have limited autonomy, but maximal agency.
  4. Assistants. Workers who focus on specific tasks, to pursue some larger goal, objective, or mission of their boss, a principal or an agent.
  1. The leveraging of effort that agents provide to principals.
  2. What is takes to make a successful and useful agent.
  1. Agency
  2. Autonomy, autonomous
  3. Independence, independent
  4. Dependence, dependent, dependency
  5. Control
  6. Mission
  7. Purpose
  8. Objective
  9. Contract
  10. Capability
  11. Reputation
  12. Requirement
  13. Delegation
  14. Goal
  15. Task
  16. Action
  17. Operation

What’s the point of an intelligent entity?

Why would an entity need to be intelligent? What’s the point of intelligence?

  1. Defining a mission.
  2. Defining objectives to achieve the mission.
  3. Planning.
  4. Making decisions.
  5. Dealing with the unexpected.
  6. Dealing with ambiguity.
  7. Coping with the vagaries of human nature.
  8. Coping with the vagaries of weather and other natural phenomena.
  9. Dexterity that cannot be easily or cheaply replicated by a machine.
  10. Pattern recognition that cannot be easily or cheaply replicated by a machine.
  11. Creativity.
  12. Imagination.

How much intelligence is needed?

Enough to respond to common obstacles and variations in the operating environment.

Is a dog an intelligent entity?

Interesting question! A few key points in their favor:

  1. Dogs do have utility, including guarding.
  2. Dogs can perform simple tasks or at least actions upon request.
  3. They can sometimes deal with the unexpected.
  4. They have dexterity, to some degree.
  5. They can do some forms of pattern recognition.
  6. They do some some very minimal communication skills.
  7. They can be great companions.
  8. They can be specially trained for specific tasks or activities such as leading the blind, bomb sniffing, tracking, fetching certain types of objects, etc.
  9. They can be assistants to at least a limited degree.
  10. They can help to assist in solving simple problems and performing simple tasks.
  1. Nothing in the way of creativity or imagination.
  2. Nothing in the way of planning.
  3. No ability to perform more complex tasks.
  4. No complex problem solving ability.
  5. Very limited communication skills.
  6. No apparent ability to consider alternatives and make decisions.
  7. No sense of ethics or morality. Except maybe simple loyalty to their owner.

Solving bigger problems

The essential rationale for principals, agents, and assistants is to enable entities to address significantly larger problems than they could if working alone.

General meaning of entity

The general meaning of entity most relevant to this paper is person or computational entity. The latter covering software and data in computers, tablets, smartphones, intelligent agents, intelligent digital assistants, and any kind of device with embedded digital capabilities such as smart appliances.

  1. Being, existence — independent, separate, or self-contained existence
  2. the existence of a thing as contrasted with its attributes
  3. something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality
  4. an organization (such as a business or governmental unit) that has an identity separate from those of its members
  • Entity. An object that has some sort of significance. Commonly a person, place, or thing. May be a computational entity. May also be an idea, concept, topic, area, event, matter, action, phenomenon, or any thing of unspecified or vaguely specified nature. A group of closely related entities can also be considered collectively as a larger entity, such as a family, partnership, team, business, nonprofit organization, or a country. Animals, people, organizations, and robots are entities.
  • Object. Something that exists or at least appears to have form, substance, shape, or can be detected in some way, or can be experienced with the senses or imagination, or manipulated by a computer, either as a real-world object or an imaginary object, such as a media object, mental object, or computational object, and can be distinguished from its environment. See also: entity, a subset of which are objects. Whether liquid and gaseous matter should be considered to be objects is debatable, but they are under this definition. A storm could certainly be treated as an object even though it consists only of air and water. Alternatively, the entity or matter at which an action is being directed — see also: subject.

Definition of sapient entity

Another key definition from that companion paper, Vocabulary of Knowledge, Thought, and Reason, is that of sapient entity:

  • Sapient entity. An intelligent entity, capable of wisdom. A person or an intelligent machine or robot.

Definition of intelligent entity

Another key definition from that companion paper, Vocabulary of Knowledge, Thought, and Reason, is the definition of intelligent entity:

  • Intelligent entity. Entity capable of perception and cognition — thought and reason, coupled with memory and knowledge. Synonym for sapient entity.

How intelligent?

How exactly should we distinguish dumb entities (human or machine) from intelligent entities? That’s an open matter of great debate.

Definition of computational entity

An intelligent entity can be a person or a computational entity, as defined in the companion paper, Vocabulary of Knowledge, Thought, and Reason:

  • Computational entity. An imaginary entity created as a computational object. It may be intended to accurately or approximately represent a real-world object, mental object, or media object, or be entirely imaginary and exist only in the computing environment.

Dictionary definitions of entity, principal, agent, and assistant

Before providing refined definitions of the terms entity, principal, agent, and assistant, the starting point is to review the traditional dictionary definitions of these terms.

  1. independent, separate, or self-contained existence
  2. something that has separate and distinct existence and objective or conceptual reality
  1. a person who has controlling authority or is in a leading position
  2. a chief or head man or woman
  3. the chief executive officer of an educational institution
  4. one who engages another to act as an agent subject to general control and instruction
  5. the person from whom an agent’s authority derives
  6. the chief or an actual participant in a crime
  7. the person primarily or ultimately liable on a legal obligation
  8. a leading performer — star
  1. one that acts or exerts power
  2. something that produces or is capable of producing an effect
  3. a means or instrument by which a guiding intelligence achieves a result
  4. one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another
  5. a computer application designed to automate certain tasks (such as gathering information online)
  6. a person who does business for another person
  7. a person who acts on behalf of another
  8. a person or thing that causes something to happen
  9. something that produces an effect
  10. a person who acts or does business for another
  11. someone or something that acts or exerts power
  12. a moving force in achieving some result
  13. a person guided or instigated by another in some action
  14. a person or entity (as an employee or independent contractor) authorized to act on behalf of and under the control of another in dealing with third parties
  1. a person who assists someone
  2. helper
  3. a person holding an assistantship
  4. a device or product that provides assistance
  5. a person who helps someone
  6. a person whose job is to help another person to do work
  7. a person whose job is to help the customers in a store
  8. acting as a helper to another
  9. a person who assists another
  1. a person who assists or gives aid and support
  2. helper
  3. a person who is subordinate to another in rank, function, etc.
  4. one holding a secondary rank in an office or post
  5. something that aids and supplements another
  6. a faculty member of a college or university who ranks below an instructor and whose responsibilities usually include grading papers, supervising laboratories, and assisting in teaching
  7. serving in an immediately subordinate position; of secondary rank
  8. a person who assists, esp in a subordinate position
  9. (archaic) helpful or useful as an aid

Definitions of autonomy and agency

Definitions of autonomy and agency from What Are Autonomy and Agency?:

  1. Autonomy. Degree to which an entity can set goals, make decisions, and take actions without the approval of any other entity. Can range from the full autonomy of a principal to the limited autonomy of an agent to no autonomy for an assistant. The entity can decide whether to take action itself or delegate responsibility for specific goals or specific tasks to other entities, such as agents and assistants.
  2. Agency. Ability of an entity, an agent, to plan, make decisions, and take actions or perform tasks in pursuit of objectives and goals provided by a principal. The agent has limited autonomy to decide how to pursue objectives and goals specified by its principal. A contract between principal and agent specifies the objectives and goals to be pursued, authorizing action and obligations, but leaving it to the agent to decide how to plan, define, and perform tasks and actions. The agent may decompose given objectives and goals into subgoals which it can delegate to other agents for whom this agent is their principal.

More depth on autonomy and agency

For more detail on autonomy and agency, see the companion paper, What Are Autonomy and Agency?.

Degrees of autonomy

In the real world, autonomy is not a binary all or nothing proposition. It’s a spectrum with unlimited gradations, the most common and significant in the context of this paper being:

  1. No autonomy. All actions dictated by other entities.
  2. Limited autonomy. Some degree of autonomy, but constrained by some combination of other entities, commonly the principal of a contract between entities, and external forces.
  3. Semi-autonomous. More than merely some limited autonomy, but short of full autonomy.
  4. Full autonomy. Absolutely no limits. Well, other than the laws of physics and statutory law.

Full autonomy for principals

The general idea is that principals have autonomy while agents and assistants are more significantly constrained in their freedom of action.

  • The laws of physics.
  • The limitations of their bodies and their minds.
  • National, local, and international law.
  • Moral and ethical commitments, including professional ethics.
  • Limited resources.
  • Competition for resources with other entities.

Science fiction for robot and AI autonomy

In the imaginary world of science fiction, full autonomy of robots and AI is quite possible, if not expected.

Limited autonomy for robots and AI in the real world

In the real world as we know it today and expect it for the indefinite future, there is no current prospect that robots or AI could have the full and unlimited autonomy that is permitted in science fiction.

Dictionary definitions of independent

Independence and autonomy are closely related, if not synonyms.

  1. not dependent
  2. not subject to control by others — self-governing
  3. not affiliated with a larger controlling unit
  4. not requiring or relying on something else — not contingent
  5. not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct
  6. not bound by or committed to a political party
  7. not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood)
  8. being enough to free one from the necessity of working for a living
  9. showing a desire for freedom
  10. not determined by or capable of being deduced or derived from or expressed in terms of members (such as axioms or equations) of the set under consideration
  11. having the property that the joint probability (as of events or samples) or the joint probability density function (as of random variables) equals the product of the probabilities or probability density functions of separate occurrence
  12. main
  13. neither deducible from nor incompatible with another statement
  14. one that is independent
  15. one that is not bound by or definitively committed to a political party
  16. someone or something that is not connected to others of the same kind
  17. a person who does not belong to a political party
  18. not under the control or rule of another
  19. not connected with something else
  20. not depending on anyone else for money to live on
  21. thinking freely : not looking to others for guidance
  1. not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.
  2. thinking or acting for oneself
  3. not subject to another’s authority or jurisdiction; autonomous — free
  4. not influenced by the thought or action of others
  5. not dependent
  6. not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.
  7. not relying on another or others for aid or support
  8. rejecting others’ aid or support
  9. refusing to be under obligation to others
  10. possessing a competency
  11. an independent person or thing
  12. a small, privately owned business
  13. a person who votes for candidates, measures, etc., in accordance with his or her own judgment and without regard to the endorsement of, or the positions taken by, any party

Dictionary definitions of independence

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of independence:

  1. the quality or state of being independent
  2. freedom from outside control or support
  3. the state of being independent
  4. the time when a country or region gains political freedom from outside control
  5. the quality or state of not being under the control of, reliant on, or connected with someone or something else
  1. the state or quality of being independent
  2. freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others

Freedom of action

Autonomy and independence are terms for referring to the degree of freedom of action of an entity.

Definition of independent and independence

  1. Independent. An entity whose actions are not dependent or controlled by any other entity. Generally a synonym for autonomy, except in the political sphere where autonomy conveys some limited sense of control or dependence relative to a larger state or country, but does not constitute true independence.
  2. Independence. Degree to which an entity is independent or autonomous. Degree to which an entity can make decisions and act without consulting with or being authorized by some other entity or entities. May be full independence or limited independence.
  3. Full independence. No limitations to the autonomy or freedom of action of an entity. Synonym for full autonomy.
  4. Limited independence. There are restrictions on the degree to which an entity can make decisions and act. The entity is dependent on information, support, guidance, direction, permission, or authorization from one or more other entities. Synonym for limited autonomy.

Independence and autonomy as synonyms

Independence can simply be treated as a synonym for autonomy, at least in the context of this paper, with degrees of independence corresponding to degrees of autonomy.

Dictionary definitions of dependence

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of dependence:

  1. the quality or state of being dependent
  2. the quality or state of being influenced or determined by or subject to another
  3. reliance
  4. trust
  5. one that is relied on
  6. the state of needing something or someone else for support, help, etc.
  7. a condition of being influenced and caused by something else
  8. a state of having to rely on someone or something
  9. the quality or state of being dependent upon or unduly subject to the influence of another
  1. the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support, or the like
  2. reliance
  3. confidence
  4. trust
  5. an object of reliance or trust
  6. the state of being conditional or contingent on something, as through a natural or logical sequence
  7. subordination or subjection

Dictionary definitions of dependent

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of dependent:

  1. hanging down
  2. determined or conditioned by another — contingent
  3. relying on another for support
  4. subject to another’s jurisdiction
  5. subordinate
  6. not mathematically or statistically independent
  7. equivalent
  8. one that is dependent
  9. a person who relies on another for support
  10. relies on someone else for most or all of his or her financial support
  11. decided or controlled by something else
  12. needing someone or something else for support, help, etc.
  13. a person (such as a child) whose food, clothing, etc., you are responsible for providing
  14. determined by something or someone else
  15. relying on someone else for support
  16. a person who depends upon another for support
  1. relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.
  2. conditioned or determined by something else — contingent
  3. subordinate
  4. subject
  5. not used in isolation; used only in connection with other forms
  6. hanging down — pendent
  7. having values determined by one or more independent variables
  8. having solutions that are identical to those of another equation or to those of a set of equations
  9. (of an event or a value) not statistically independent
  10. a person who depends on or needs someone or something for aid, support, favor, etc.
  11. a child, spouse, parent, or certain other relative to whom one contributes all or a major amount of necessary financial support

Definition of dependent, dependence, and dependency

Cooperation between entities, as between principals and agents or assistants, implies some degree of dependence.

  1. Dependent. An entity requires information, support, guidance, direction, permission, or authorization from some other entity in order to make a decision or take an action.
  2. Dependence. What information, support, guidance, direction, permission, or authorization an entity requires from some other entity in order to make a decision or take an action. Alternatively, the degree to which an entity depends on other entities for information, support, guidance, direction, permission, or authorization to make decisions and take actions.
  3. Dependency. Dependencies. Specific technical details of the entities, information, support, guidance, direction, permissions, and authorizations that an entity is dependent on.

Dependence of a principal

A principal can be dependent on:

  • Other principals.
  • Agents to which it has delegated goals.
  • Assistants to which it has delegated tasks.
  • Resources needed to pursue its mission.
  • Customers, clients, and users for their business or patronage.

Dependence of an agent

An agent can be dependent on:

  • A principal for information, support, guidance, direction, permission, or authorization, as well as for its patronage in the first place.
  • Other agents to which it has delegated subgoals or goals of its own.
  • Assistants to which it has delegated tasks.
  • Resources needed to achieve its goals.

Dependence of an assistant

An assistant can be dependent on:

  • A principal or agent for its task assignments, the resources needed to complete its tasks, and for its overall employment.

Dictionary definitions of control

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of control:

  1. to incorporate suitable controls in
  2. to exercise restraining or directing influence over — regulate
  3. to have power over — rule
  4. to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels
  5. to incorporate controls in an experiment or study
  6. to direct the behavior of (a person or animal)
  7. to cause (a person or animal) to do what you want
  8. to have power over (something)
  9. to direct the actions or function of (something)
  10. to cause (something) to act or function in a certain way
  11. to have power over
  12. to direct the actions or behavior of
  13. to keep within bounds — restrain
  14. to direct the function of
  15. to exercise restraining or directing influence over especially by law
  16. to have power or authority over
  17. to have controlling interest in
  1. to exercise restraint or direction over — dominate, command
  2. to hold in check — curb, restrain
  3. to test or verify (a scientific experiment) by a parallel experiment or other standard of comparison
  4. to eliminate or prevent the flourishing or spread of

Definition of control

  1. Control. To limit, restrain, direct, guide, or influence the decisions or actions of another entity.

Controlling entities

A principal controls agents and assistants.

Dictionary definitions of mission

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of mission:

  1. a body of persons sent to perform a service or carry on an activity
  2. a specific task with which a person or a group is charged
  3. a preestablished and often self-imposed objective or purpose
  4. Calling, vocation
  1. any important task or duty that is assigned, allotted, or self-imposed
  2. an important goal or purpose that is accompanied by strong conviction
  3. a calling or vocation

Dictionary definitions of objective

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of objective:

  1. something toward which effort is directed — an aim, goal, or end of action
  2. a strategic position to be attained or a purpose to be achieved by a military operation
  1. something that one’s efforts or actions are intended to attain or accomplish — purpose, goal, target

Dictionary definitions of goal

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of goal:

  1. the terminal point of a race
  2. the end toward which effort is directed — aim
  3. something that you are trying to do or achieve
  4. purpose
  5. the point at which a race or journey is to end
  1. the result or achievement toward which effort is directed — aim, end
  2. the terminal point in a race

Dictionary definitions of task

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of task:

  1. a usually assigned piece of work often to be finished within a certain time
  2. something hard or unpleasant that has to be done
  3. duty, function
  4. a piece of work that has been given to someone
  5. a job for someone to do
  6. a piece of work that has been assigned, needs to be done, or presents a challenge
  1. a definite piece of work assigned to, falling to, or expected of a person — duty
  2. any piece of work
  3. a matter of considerable labor or difficulty

Dictionary definitions of delegation

The verb sense of delegate is the more relevant meaning in this paper.

  1. the act of empowering to act for another — the delegation of responsibilities
  2. the act of giving control, authority, a job, a duty, etc., to another person
  3. the act of giving someone authority or responsibility for
  4. one or more persons chosen to represent others
  5. the act of delegating
  1. the act of delegating
  2. the state of being delegated
  1. to entrust to another
  2. to appoint as one’s representative
  3. to assign responsibility or authority
  4. to give (control, responsibility, authority, etc.) to someone
  5. to trust someone with (a job, duty, etc.)
  6. to choose (someone) to do something
  7. to make responsible for getting something done
  8. to entrust or transfer (as power, authority, or responsibility) to another
  9. to transfer (one’s contractual duties) to another
  10. to empower a body (as an administrative agency) to perform (a governmental function)
  1. to send or appoint (a person) as deputy or representative
  2. to commit (powers, functions, etc.) to another as agent or deputy
  3. entrust
  4. assign

Dictionary definitions of responsibility

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of responsibility:

  1. the quality or state of being responsible
  2. moral, legal, or mental accountability
  3. reliability, trustworthiness
  4. something for which one is responsible
  5. the state of being the person who caused something to happen
  6. a duty or task that you are required or expected to do
  7. something that you should do because it is morally right, legally required, etc.
  1. the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one’s power, control, or management
  2. an instance of being responsible
  3. a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible
  4. a person or thing for which one is responsible
  5. reliability or dependability, especially in meeting debts or payments
  1. liable to be called on to answer
  2. liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent
  3. being the cause or explanation
  4. liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties
  5. able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations — trustworthy
  6. able to choose for oneself between right and wrong
  7. marked by or involving responsibility or accountability
  8. politically answerable — especially to the electorate
  9. having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone
  10. able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required
  11. involving important duties, decisions, etc., that you are trusted to do
  12. getting the credit or blame for acts or decisions
  13. reliable
  14. needing a dependable person
  15. liable to be called on to answer
  16. liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent
  17. liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties
  18. characterized by trustworthiness, integrity, and requisite abilities and resources
  19. able to choose for oneself between right and wrong
  20. marked by or involving accountability
  1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management (often followed by to or for)
  2. involving accountability or responsibility, as in having the power to control or manage
  3. chargeable with being the author, cause, or occasion of something (usually followed by for)
  4. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action
  5. able to discharge obligations or pay debts
  6. reliable or dependable, as in meeting debts, conducting business dealings, etc.
  7. (of a government, member of a government, government agency, or the like) answerable to or serving at the discretion of an elected legislature or the electorate

Dictionary definitions of contract

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of contract:

  1. a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties, especially one legally enforceable
  2. a business arrangement for the supply of goods or services at a fixed price
  3. the act of marriage or an agreement to marry
  4. a document describing the terms of a contract
  5. a document on which the words of a contract are written
  6. a legal agreement between people, companies, etc.
  7. a legal agreement
  8. a written document that shows the terms and conditions of a legal agreement
  1. an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified
  2. an agreement enforceable by law
  3. the written form of such an agreement
  4. the formal agreement of marriage — betrothal

Dictionary definitions of capability

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of capability:

  1. the quality or state of being capable — ability
  2. a feature or faculty capable of development
  3. the facility or potential for an indicated use or deployment
  4. the ability to do something
  5. ability
  1. the quality of being capable — capacity, ability
  2. the ability to undergo or be affected by a given treatment or action
  3. Usually, capabilities — qualities, abilities, features, etc., that can be used or developed — potential
  1. having attributes (such as physical or mental power) required for performance or accomplishment
  2. having traits conducive to or features permitting something
  3. having the qualities or abilities that are needed to do or accomplish something
  4. having legal right to own, enjoy, or perform
  5. having or showing general efficiency and ability
  6. able to do something
  7. having the qualities or abilities that are needed to do something
  8. skilled at doing something
  9. able to do something well
  1. having power and ability
  2. efficient
  3. competent
  4. having the ability or capacity
  5. open to influence or effect — susceptible
  6. predisposed, inclined
  7. having ability, especially in many different fields
  8. competent
  1. the quality or state of being able, especially physical, mental, or legal power to do something
  2. natural aptitude or acquired proficiency, natural talent or acquired skill
  3. the power or skill to do something
  1. power or capacity to do or act physically, mentally, legally, morally, financially, etc.
  2. competence in an activity or occupation because of one’s skill, training, or other qualification
  3. abilities, talents; special skills or aptitudes
  4. Expertness
  1. having sufficient power, skill, or resources to do something
  2. having enough power, skill, or resources to do something
  3. having the freedom or opportunity to do something
  4. not prevented from doing something
  5. having the power, skill, money, etc., that is needed to do something
  6. having a quality or nature that makes something possible
  7. used to say that the quality or condition of something makes something possible
  8. susceptible to some action or treatment
  9. marked by intelligence, knowledge, skill, or competence
  10. having skill or talent
  11. skillful
  12. competent
  1. having necessary power, skill, resources, or qualifications — qualified
  2. having unusual or superior intelligence, skill, etc.
  3. showing talent, skill, or knowledge
  4. legally empowered, qualified, or authorized
  5. fit
  1. the ability to do something well
  2. the quality or state of being capable
  3. the quality or state of being functionally adequate
  4. a sufficiency of means for the necessities and conveniences of life
  5. the quality or state of being competent
  6. the knowledge that enables a person to speak and understand a language
  7. possession of sufficient knowledge or skill
  8. legal authority, ability, or admissibility
  1. the quality of being competent — adequacy
  2. possession of required skill, knowledge, qualification, or capacity
  3. an income sufficient to furnish the necessities and modest comforts of life
  4. sufficiency; a sufficient quantity
  5. legal capacity or qualification based on the meeting of certain minimum requirements of age, soundness of mind, citizenship, or the like
  6. the implicit, internalized knowledge of a language that a speaker possesses and that enables the speaker to produce and understand the language
  1. proper or rightly pertinent
  2. having requisite or adequate ability or qualities — fit
  3. having or showing requisite or adequate ability or qualities
  4. legally qualified or adequate
  5. having the capacity to function or develop in a particular way
  6. having the necessary ability or skills
  7. able to do something well or well enough to meet a standard
  8. capable, efficient
  9. free from addiction or mental defect that renders one incapable of taking care of oneself or one’s property
  10. capable of understanding one’s position as a criminal defendant and the nature of the criminal proceedings and able to participate in one’s defense
  11. legally qualified or adequate
  12. intelligent
  1. having suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, experience, etc., for some purpose
  2. having sufficient skill, knowledge, etc. — capable
  3. properly qualified
  4. adequate but not exceptional
  5. having legal competence, as by meeting certain minimum requirements of age, soundness of mind, or the like
  6. proficient
  7. suitable or sufficient for the purpose
  8. properly or sufficiently qualified
  9. capable of performing an allotted or required function
  10. legally qualified or fit to perform an act
  11. able to distinguish right from wrong and to manage one’s affairs

Dictionary definitions of reputation

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of reputation:

  1. overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general
  2. recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability
  3. a place in public esteem or regard — good name
  4. the common opinion that people have about someone or something
  5. the way in which people think of someone or something
  6. overall quality or character as judged by people in general
  7. notice by other people of some quality or ability
  8. overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general within a community
  1. the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally
  2. favorable repute — good name
  3. a favorable and publicly recognized name or standing for merit, achievement, reliability, etc.
  4. the estimation or name of being, having, having done, etc., something specified

Dictionary definitions of requirement

Definition entries from Merriam-Webster definition of requirement:

  1. something required
  2. something wanted or needed — necessity
  3. something essential to the existence or occurrence of something else — condition
  4. something that is needed or that must be done
  5. something that is necessary for something else to happen or be done
  6. something that is necessary
  1. that which is required
  2. a thing demanded or obligatory
  3. an act or instance of requiring
  4. a need or necessity
  5. some quality or performance demanded of a person in accordance with certain fixed regulations

Definition of mission

  1. Mission. The larger and core purpose, general focus, and target audience for an intelligent entity, primarily a principal, beyond immediate and specific objectives, goals, and tasks. Objectives follow from the mission. Alternatively, the immediate objective, goal, or task for an intelligent entity.

Mission of a principal

Generally, a principal will have a clearly defined mission. It’s objectives follow from that mission.

Mission of an agent

Generally, an agent will not have a mission of its own with regard to its work on a specific goal, deferring to the mission of the principal on whose behalf it is pursuing the goal.

Mission of an assistant

Generally, an assistant does not have a mission of its own. The mission of an assistant in the traditional sense is simply to serve its principal by successfully completing tasks.

Definition of objective

  1. Objective. Larger or more general target or aim to be pursued or achieved by an entity as part of its mission. Not as specific as a goal, but not uncommonly goal and objective are used as synonyms. The intent here is that a goal has a narrower scope while an objective has a broader scope. Sometimes referred to as a strategic objective.

Definition of delegation

  1. Delegation. The process of an entity identifying a subset of its goals and tasks that can be offloaded to another entity, or to multiple entities.
  1. From a principal to an agent.
  2. From a principal to an assistant.
  3. From an agent to an assistant.
  4. From an agent to another agent.

Definition of responsibility

  1. Responsibility. Obligation or expectation of delivery of goods, services, information, or guidance or performance or achievement of an entity by another entity, typically as a result of delegation under a contract.

Responsibility of principal or contracting party

The contracting party is responsible for supplying requirements, information, guidance, and possibly resources needed by the contracted party to proceed with the contracted work, including a statement of the goal and expectations for any work products.

Responsibility of agent or contracted party

The contracted party is responsible for performing the contracted work, achieving the contracted goal, and delivering the contracted work products.

Responsibility of an assistant

Assistants would generally not operate under a formal contract for a given work request, other than a general contract of employment that covers all of their work.

Definition of contract

  1. Contract. Agreement between two intelligent entities specifying a relationship in which goods, services, or payments are exchanged according to agreed upon terms and conditions, with the intention of pursuing and achieving a specified goal. Commonly between a principal and agent, or between a principal or agent and an assistant.

Definition of capabilities

  1. Capabilities. Detailed list of what an intelligent entity can do and accomplish. And in some cases non-intelligent entities. What types of objectives, goals, tasks, actions, and operations the entity can perform. What abilities, skills, knowledge, expertise, talents, aptitudes, competencies, and proficiencies the entity has. Also what education, training, experience, credentials, qualifications, and licensing the entity has.

Working with capabilities

There are several aspects to capabilities.

  1. Acquiring capabilities. Learning, developing, refining, honing.
  2. Awareness of capabilities. Knowledge and confidence.
  3. Detailing capabilities. Cataloging and expressing them.
  4. Advertising capabilities. Letting other entities know what the entity has to offer. Registering an entity and its capabilities in catalogs or listings.
  5. Searching for capabilities. An entity seeks the services of another entity which offers desired capabilities. And which has a reputation for delivering on those capabilities. Issuing RFPs (Request For Proposal) for desired capabilities and requirements. Or posting or advertising job requirements. Searching catalogs or listings of entities which have registered as providing such capabilities.
  6. Contracting for capabilities. Negotiating a contract for delivering specified services from one entity to another, such as from an agent to a principal, an assistant to a principal or agent, or between two agents or two principals.

Definition of reputation

  1. Reputation. Track record for an entity delivering on the terms and conditions of contracts for its capabilities. Knowledge shared by entities which have previously contracted with the entity.
  1. Delivering of contracted work products, both goods and services. Achieving goals.
  2. Quality of work products.
  3. Timely delivery.
  4. Cost effectiveness.
  5. Performance. How fast did the entity act and how quickly did it complete the contract.
  6. Capacity. How much or how big a job was the agent or assistant able to handle.
  7. Quality of relationship between the entity and entities which contracted with it.

Definitions of task, purpose, goal, subgoal

  1. Task. One or more actions or operations intended to achieve some purpose.
  2. Purpose. The reason or desired intent for something.
  3. Goal. A destination or state of affairs that is desired or intended, but without a plan for a set of tasks to achieve it.
  4. Subgoal. A portion of a larger goal. A goal may be decomposed into any number of subgoals.

Definitions of motivation and intention

  1. Motivation. The rationale for pursuing a particular objective or goal.
  2. Intention. Desired objective or goal. What is desired, not why or how.

Definitions of actions and operations

  1. Action. Something that can be done by an entity. An observable effect that can be caused in the environment.
  2. Operation. Generally a synonym for action. Alternatively, an action that persists for some period of time.

Goals, tasks, and actions

Accomplishing anything of note requires three levels of processing:

  1. Setting or defining goals — by the principal.
  2. Elaborating tasks to achieve a goal — by the agent.
  3. Sequencing through discrete actions or operations to complete tasks — by the assistant.

Definitions of principal, agent, and assistant

  1. Principal. An intelligent entity which has the will and desire to formulate an objective or goal, and has unlimited autonomy as well as full agency. Alternatively, the entity which delegates a task to an assistant.
  2. Agent. An intelligent entity which has the capability and resources to pursue and achieve an objective or goal on behalf of another entity, its principal, and has agency but only limited autonomy, as well as responsibility to another agent, an assistant, or a principal.
  3. Assistant. An intelligent entity which has the capability and resources to perform tasks as explicitly directed by a principal or an agent, but has neither agency nor autonomy, only responsibility to its principal.

Distinctive roles of principals, agents, and assistants

The roles have distinctive differences:

  1. Principals. Excel at identifying and detailing specific goals needed to achieve the objectives that follow from the mission of the principal, collectively referred to as setting goals, finding properly qualified agents capable of achieving those goals and having acceptable reputations and track records, delegating or assigning the goals to those agents after negotiating carefully detailed contracts with those agents, and finally assuring that that the agents have fulfilled their contracts.
  2. Agents. Advertising themselves as being available to principals, including their capabilities in terms of goals that they can pursue, negotiating contracts with principals that detail the goals, and then achieving the contracted goal(s) by identifying the sequences of tasks or subgoals needed to achieve the goals and either delegating those tasks to assistants or other agents or completing them itself. An agent creates its reputation and track record by successfully completing contracts according to their terms and conditions.
  3. Assistant. Able to efficiently perform designated tasks to a desired level of quality.

Contract between principal and agent

An agent cannot properly do its job without a contract between it and its principal. This paper won’t go into depth on contracts, but simply note the essential elements of any good contract:

  1. Set expectations of the principal. What the principal expects from the agent.
  2. Set expectations of the agent. What the agent expects from the principal.
  3. Obligations of the principal.
  4. Obligations of the agent.
  5. Responsibilities of the principal.
  6. Responsibilities of the agent.
  7. Statement of work and definition of the work product. The details.
  8. Timeframe. When. When to start. When to complete.
  9. Timeline. Milestones. Sequencing of work and work products.
  10. Reporting. When, how often, and how agent is expected to report status.
  11. Limitations and restrictions. How open-ended is the contract.
  12. Capacity. How much is the agent or its work product expected to handle?
  13. Performance. How fast is the agent or its work product expected to respond?
  14. Compensation. For completion of contract, in full or in part.
  15. Penalties for failure to complete the contract, in full or in part.

Definition of requirement

  1. Requirement. A capability that is needed by an entity to achieve some goal.

Matching requirements with capabilities

To a significant degree individual requirements will line up with individual capabilities. In fact, if a requirement doesn’t match up with a capability, there will not be a match between a contracting party and any entity.


Synthesized definition of assistant from What Is an Assistant?:

  • An assistant is a person, device, or software service who or which takes on some portion of the workload or tasks of an individual or group.
  • An assistant facilitates the activities and life of an individual or group.
  • An assistant performs tasks or operations on behalf of and at the request of an individual or a group.
  • An assistant has very little or limited sense of autonomy or agency, deferring to the explicit direction of the individual or group whom they serve. Some assistants may have a greater degree of autonomy.


A technician is simply an assistant who has specialized technical training for a set of tasks in some specialized area.


In additions to individual intelligent entities acting in the roles of principal, agent, and assistant, entire organizations can act in each role as well.

Other categories of intelligent entities

In addition to principals, agents, and assistants, there are a variety of other categories of intelligent entities, including but not limited to:

  1. Customers. Entities who purchase goods or services from principals.
  2. Clients. Entities who purchase services from principals.
  3. Users. Entities who purchase or use the services of principals.
  4. Services. Entities which provide services that are used by principals, agents, or assistants.
  5. Workers. Entities who regularly perform similar tasks. May also or sometimes be assistants.
  6. Visitors and guests. Invited or otherwise welcomed.
  7. Strangers. Chance encounters. Paths simply happened to cross.
  8. Students.
  9. Children.
  10. Law enforcement.
  11. Government officials.
  12. Government services.
  13. General population. The full set of intelligent entities in some specified area or region,, each of whom may or may not fall into one or more of the other categories.
  14. Past population. The full set of intelligent entities that ever existed in some specified area or region, some of which exist now, the remainder of which no longer exist.
  15. Future population. The full set of possible intelligent entities which will exist in the future, some of which exist now, the remainder of which have not yet come into existence.


Intelligent entities can interact both with other intelligent entities and non-intelligent entities as well.

  1. Between principals and agents.
  2. Between principals and assistants.
  3. Between principals and other principals.
  4. Between agents and assistants.
  5. Between agents and other agents.
  6. Between assistants and other assistants.
  1. With customers and clients.
  2. With prospective customers and clients.
  3. With users.
  4. With workers.
  5. With service workers.
  6. With visitors and guests.
  7. With strangers.
  8. With law enforcement.
  9. With government officials.
  10. With government services.
  11. With students.
  12. With children.
  1. With traditional computer services.
  2. With dumb machines.
  3. With supplies.
  4. With paperwork.
  5. With logistical details.
  6. With raw materials.
  7. With weather and other natural phenomena.
  8. With animals
  9. With pests.
  10. With disease.
  11. With one’s own body.
  12. With a patient’s body. Medical treatment, surgery, first responders.
  13. With nature, physical challenges.


Interactions might be transient or they may be part of a larger pattern as part of a relationship.

  1. Principal and agent.
  2. Principal and assistant.
  3. Principal and principal.
  4. Agent and assistant.
  5. Agent and agent. Independent of principals.
  1. With customers and clients.
  2. With prospective customers and clients.
  3. With users.
  4. With workers.
  5. With service workers.
  6. With visitors and guests.
  7. With strangers.
  8. With students.
  9. With children.
  1. Teachers with students.
  2. Parents, siblings and relatives with children.
  1. With animals
  2. With pests.
  3. With disease.
  4. With one’s own body.
  5. With a patient’s body. Medical treatment.
  6. With nature.

Partners, allies, friends, enemies, adversaries, competitors, and antagonists

Other forms of relationships include:

  1. Partners. Two or more principals can be partners who work very closely together for specific objectives or a shared mission.
  2. Allies. Two or more principals or agents can be allies, having shared interests, and related objectives, missions, or goals.
  3. Friends. Entities whose interests are roughly compatible even if they do not directly facilitate achieving their respective missions, objectives, goals, or tasks.
  4. Enemies. Two or more principals can be enemies seeking the same mission or objective but with opposing interests.
  5. Adversaries. Less severe synonym for enemy.
  6. Competitors. Less severe synonym for adversary.
  7. Antagonists. Two or more principals, agents, or assistants can be antagonists whose missions, objectives, goals, or tasks conflict in ways that makes it difficult for each entity to achieve what it seeks even if not outright enemies, competitors, or adversaries. For example, landlords, vendors, criminals.


In addition to interactions and relationships, entities can have connections, such as:

  1. Familiarity. Know about.
  2. Friends.
  3. Colleagues.
  4. Met at some event.
  5. Shared some experience.
  6. Affiliation.
  7. Past affiliation.
  8. Similar background.
  9. Same industry.
  10. Same or similar career.
  11. Same or similar community.
  12. Same demographic.
  13. Same country.
  14. Same or similar interests.
  15. Complementary interests.

Legal liability

Legal liability can arise in various ways:

  1. Liability of a principal for its own actions.
  2. Liability of an agent for its own actions.
  3. Liability of an assistant for its own actions.
  4. Liability of an agent for its actions performed by it on behalf of its principal.
  5. Liability of a principal for actions performed on its behalf by an agent.
  6. Liability of a principal for actions performed on its behalf by an assistant.
  7. Liability of an assistant for actions performed by it on behalf of its principal.
  8. Liability of an assistant for actions performed by it on behalf of an agent.
  9. Liability of an agent for actions performed on its behalf by an assistant.
  10. Liability of an agent for actions performed on its behalf by another agent.
  11. Liability of a principal for actions performed on its behalf by an another agent working on behalf of an agent working on its behalf.
  12. Contractual obligations on the part of the principal and agent.


This paper will not explore ethics of principals, agents, and assistants, although it is a very interesting and very relevant topic area.

Morality and ethics of an agent or assistant

An agent (or assistant) will not need to make moral or ethical decisions of its own per se, but it will need to be able to ensure that its actions or inaction are compatible with the moral and ethical frameworks of the principal.

Future work

The theory, technology, implementation, and practice of intelligent entities, principals, agents, assistants, autonomy, and agency will remain works in progress for the foreseeable future.



Freelance Consultant

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