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Intelligent Software Agents

Published on Apr 02, 2024


Computers are as ubiquitous as automobiles and toasters, but exploiting their capabilities still seems to require the training of a supersonic test pilot. VCR displays blinking a constant 12 noon around the world testify to this conundrum.

As interactive television, palmtop diaries and "smart" credit cards proliferate, the gap between millions of untrained users and an equal number of sophisticated microprocessors will become even more sharply apparent. With people spending a growing proportion of their lives in front of computer screens--informing and entertaining one another, exchanging correspondence, working, shopping and falling in love--some accommodation must be found between limited human attention spans and increasingly complex collections of software and data.

Computers currently respond only to what interface designers call direct manipulation. Nothing happens unless a person gives commands from a keyboard, mouse or touch screen. The computer is merely a passive entity waiting to execute specific, highly detailed instructions; it provides little help for complex tasks or for carrying out actions (such as searches for information) that may take an indefinite time.

If untrained consumers are to employ future computers and networks effectively, direct manipulation will have to give way to some form of delegation. Researchers and software companies have set high hopes on so called software agents, which "know" users' interests and can act autonomously on their behalf. Instead of exercising complete control (and taking responsibility for every move the computer makes), people will be engaged in a cooperative process in which both human and computer agents initiate communication, monitor events and perform tasks to meet a user's goals.

The average person will have many alter egos in effect, digital proxies-- operating simultaneously in different places. Some of these proxies will simply make the digital world less overwhelming by hiding technical details of tasks, guiding users through complex on-line spaces or even teaching them about certain subjects. Others will actively search for information their owners may be interested in or monitor specified topics for critical changes.

Yet other agents may have the authority to perform transactions (such as on-line shopping) or to represent people in their absence. As the proliferation of paper and electronic pocket diaries has already foreshadowed, software agents will have a particularly helpful role to play as personal secretaries--extended memories that remind their bearers where they have put things, whom they have talked to, what tasks they have already accomplished and which remain to be finished.

Agent programs differ from regular software mainly by what can best be described as a sense of themselves as independent entities. An ideal agent knows what its goal is and will strive to achieve it. An agent should also be robust and adaptive, capable of learning from experience and responding to unforeseen situations with a repertoire of different methods. Finally, it should be autonomous so that it can sense the current state of its environment and act independently to make progress toward its goal.


Intelligent Software Agents are a popular research object these days. Because of the fact that currently the term "agent" is used by many parties in many different ways, it has become difficult for users to make a good estimation of what the possibilities of the agent technology are.Moreover these agents may have a wide range of applications which may significantly effect its definition,hence it is not easy to craft a rock-solid definition which could be generalized for all.However a informal definition of an Intelligent software agent may be given as:

"A piece of software which performs a given task using information gleaned from its environment to act in a suitable manner so as to complete the task successfully. The software should be able to adapt itself based on changes occurring in its environment, so that a change in circumstances will still yield the intended result."

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