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Promise Theory

Promise Theory is a conceptual framework developed by Mark Burgess, the creator of CFEngine, to aid in understanding and modeling complex distributed systems. Although this theory was initially developed in the context of computer systems configuration management, it can be applied to a wide variety of systems, including social networks, economic systems, and more.

In the Promise Theory framework, a system is understood as a collection of independent agents. Each agent can make promises about its own behavior. For instance, in a computer system, an agent might be a server that promises to respond to certain requests, or a piece of software that promises to produce certain outputs when given certain inputs.

Here are a few key principles of Promise Theory:

  1. Agent Autonomy: Each agent is autonomous and has full control over the promises it makes. No agent can force another agent to make a promise.

  2. Voluntary Promises: Promises are made voluntarily by the agents. An agent cannot be compelled to make a promise it does not wish to make.

  3. Promises as Interface: Promises serve as the interface between agents. They define what an agent is willing to do but do not specify how the agent should accomplish what it promises.

  4. Promises and Observation: The verification of a promise is done through observation. If an agent promises to do something, other agents verify this promise by observing the agent’s behavior.

Promise Theory offers a decentralized and bottom-up way of understanding systems, contrasting with more traditional top-down and centralized approaches. In these, one agent (or a small number of agents) tries to impose behavior on the entire system. In contrast, in Promise Theory, the overall behavior of the system emerges from the interactions among numerous independent agents, each making their own promises.


Page last modified: 2024-01-02 11:14:33