A rational agent is an artificial intelligence (AI) component. It applies AI to different real-world problems. As such, it chooses an action from a set of distinct options. It has models that allow it to deal with unexpected variables and always selects the best possible outcome from all the available options.

The term “rational agent,” however, is not only applied to a system. It can also refer to a person, a company, or an application, practically anything or anyone that makes rational decisions.

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Read More about a “Rational Agent”

The term “rational agent” traces its origin to economics. It is currently used in the field of AI to refer to applications meant to achieve specific goals.

In AI, rational agents are closely related to intelligent agents or autonomous programs that mimic human intelligence.

How Does a Rational Agent Work?

A rational agent is essentially a goal-based agent. It assesses its environment by considering what it is like. It then looks at each available action in its arsenal and determines how it will affect the environment and help it attain its goal. It tries out all the possible steps before choosing the best one, the one that will move it closest to its objective.

Here’s a simple diagram to help you understand:

What is a Rational Agent

A sensor could be a camera, an infrared device, a sonar, an ultrasound, a radar, or a lidar in the image above. It helps an AI robot determine an object’s or its surroundings’ size, identify a thing, and determine distances. An effector, meanwhile, is any device that affects a particular environment. It could be a robot’s legs, wheels, arms, fingers, wings, or fins. Effectors are also called “actuators.”

The video below also answers the question, “What is a rational agent?” Watch it to learn more.

Real-World Applications of a Rational Agent

A rational agent can be used for an autonomous vacuum cleaner. When it runs, it always looks at its surroundings to determine where it will go next. If something is preventing it from moving to the left (e.g., a sofa leg), it will consider moving to the right and do so if it can. It moves around a room, avoiding obstructions (i.e., furniture) while moving back and forth, sucking dirt when present.

Rational agents are also used in self-driving vehicles, energy-saving air-conditioning units, automated lights, and other devices that need environmental inputs to decide the best course of action to take.

What Makes a Rational Agent Effective?

A rational agent works if you can measure its performance. The higher its performance measure is, the more rational an agent is. Its performance measure is gauged using these criteria:

  • How well it achieves its goals
  • How well it assesses its environment
  • How many actions it can perform

A self-driving car, for example, is rational if it can bring you safely and comfortably where you need to go in the shortest amount of time. It needs to follow road signs and directions and avoid other vehicles, people, and other obstructions, including traffic.

Autonomous vehicles have sensors that include cameras, sonars, Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, speedometers, odometers, accelerometers, and keyboards. They also have actuators, including steering wheels, accelerators, brakes, signals, and horns.

So, what is a rational agent? Think of it as your brain, which tells parts of your body (e.g., your arms and legs) what to do when your sensors (e.g., eyes, ears, and nose) sense something in your surroundings you need to avoid so you will not get hurt.