The current state of technology enables anyone with a computer, modem and telephone line to effortlessly access this vast storehouse of knowledge. USENET news groups and free web hosting services allow that same user base to actively contribute to the 'net as easily as viewing it.
By making information readily available and facilitating communication among the masses unrestricted by physical distance or political boundary the Internet may be viewed as a great liberator. There is, however, a downside. The sheer quantity of material existing in cyberspace introduces the problem of information overload. Finding the precise documents needed among all the dross is akin to looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. This problem has been described as "infoglut" by the Gartner Group.
Numerous search engines exist with
the purpose of providing maintaining searchable indexes of web pages. Whilst
these are a powerful tool, considerable skill is required in framing queries
which retrieve the most useful content and eliminate that without value. Search
engine output can be distorted by web designers biasing their pages to achieve
higher listings in the search engines. To make matters worse services such as
GoTo permit web site owners to buy prominent
positions in search engine results.
According to Hendler an effective agent must be:
Millman additionally suggests mobility as a desirable quality for an agent. This means the agent software is able to travel through the Internet, executing on a variety of hosts before returning with its findings.
One possible obstacle to the wider
deployment of agents arises from the potential security risks posed by independent
programs roaming the Internet and executing on any machine at will. Systems
managers and users alike will need to be reassured in this area if agents are
to make a major impact on the way we use the 'net.
3. Agents in Use
A little later the researcher receives
an e-mail listing a number of documents, ranked in order of relevance, that
the agent has located. The agent invites the researcher to grade the documents
retrieved in terms of their usefulness, this allows the agent to build a profile
of the user and better tailor its results in future searches. Additionally the
agent will watch the documents reported as being most useful and notify the
researcher when they are updated.
4. Products currently
VIA, Versatile Intelligent Agents, by Kinetoscope is a modular agent system based on the Java language and aimed at the corporate market. Kinetoscope's website describes how VIA allows developers to use VIA's pre-existing task libraries and agents or to write their own to customise VIA for the specific needs of their business. The website includes a case study detailing the adoption of a VIA solution by Schlumberger, the multi-billion dollar oil and telecommunications company.
Concordia from Mitsubishi
is a system for developing mobile agents. Concordia agent applications are able
to access and deliver information across multiple networks, even when the user
is off-line. An evaluation version, excluding "reliability and security
components or features", is available for free download from the Concordia
The University of Washington's Department of Computer Science and Engineering is conducting research into intelligent software agents for the Internet. Its Softbots homepage describes the Internet Learning Agent, an application enabling people to find information on the 'net. The Internet Learning Agent "forms models of information resources by interacting with them".
The Multi-Agent Systems Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts has developed BIG, A Resource-Bounded Information Gathering Agent. BIG was developed in response to two observations. Firstly, much information gathering takes place in support of a broader decision-making process. Secondly, constructing a model from the results of information gathering is a matter of interpretation, i.e. the model must be built from a number of incomplete documents.
BIG is able to refine its strategy
during the search process in the light of documents retrieved so far as well
as learning from the experience of previous searches. It permits users to define
the relative importance of parameters such as quality and price and to enter
the time in which results are require.
A White Paper by Kinetoscope, available on its website, indicates the company is developing the following agent-related technologies:
7. Further Reading
All information correct
and links valid at March 2001.
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