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Intelligent Agents

What are these things?

Intelligent agents can be defined as pieces of software that must conform to a certain number of points:

  • They should be able to operate without direct intervention of human beings
  • They should be able to exert some control over their actions
  • They need to be able to interact with human beings via some sort of interface
  • Agents will be able to exchange messages between each other and other interfaces
  • They need to be aware of their environment and have to be able to respond to changes as they occur
  • They should be able to act without direct commands by taking the initiative.

Early implimentations of intelligent agents

The very first intelligent agents were, as you might guess, very basic indeed, and hardly deserved the term 'intelligent'. The one which most people recognise as the forerunner of what we have today is a program called Eliza at http://www-ai.ijs.si/eliza/eliza.html 'She' was designed to be a psychotherapist, and did little except echo back comments that you made to her. Although you can ask Eliza questions, she generally throws the question back to you, so the conversation is rather one-sided! However, since she was written in only just over 200 lines of code she is still quite impressive, and its possible to sit and chat to her for several minutes before you fall asleep from boredom!
However, even an early implimentation such as Eliza gave developers a clear indication of where they could move to. A more recent version of Eliza is Shallow Red, at http://www.neurostudio.com/indexShallow.html which provides information on products sold by the company. If it is unable to answer your question it will send it along to AltaVista to try and provide some assistance that way. Another version is ALICE - An Artificial Linguistic Computer Entity at http://alice.eecs.lehigh.edu:1991/ which I personally didn't find very effective, but which is still worth taking a look at. All three of these are known as Chatterbots for obvious reasons.
Probably the best of the bunch is Brain the Bot at http://orlo.emi.net/html/brainframe.htm

Intelligent agents which learn from your preferences

There are a variety of agents which will learn from your likes and dislikes and will then attempt to make suggestions based upon your preferences. There are several nice examples of these on the Internet at the moment, and in particular I liked:
Alexandria Digital Literature at http://www.alexlit.com/ This agent asks you to rate a number of books that you have read, and once you have input data rating a minimum of 40 titles it will be able to suggest other titles that it thinks you would probably enjoy reading. I tried the system out, and it seemed very top heavy with science fiction titles, but there is an option of choosing your own favourite authors and rating those as well. I was quite impressed with the results that were returned to me.
If you don't like this version, you may wish to explore the The Readers Robot which can be found at http://www.tnrdlib.bc.ca/rr.html
The Amazon bookshop at http://www.amazon.com has a facility which will update you every time books are added to its catalogue that match your own particular interests. It is pushing a point rather a lot to call it an 'intelligent agent', since it is very basic, but having said that, it is a useful feature of their website.
If books are not your thing, you might like to try out movies at the Moviecritic at http://www.moviecritic.com/ and it works in pretty much the same way.
Moving towards the Internet now, if intelligent agents can choose books or films for you, they can also find web pages that will be of use for you. The Web Bird finds pages that it thinks you will like, based on a list which you supply of pages/sites that you already like or find useful. Unfortunately, the Web Bird at http://ai.iit.nrc.ca/II_public/WebBird/tryIt.html only works via email. It does help if you can supply a lot of web pages for it to work on - I only tried four and didn't have any luck with it, so I'd recommend have a list of about 10 URL's that you can feed to it.


A 'portal' is the latest jargon term and is used to describe search engines which offer more than just the ability to search their indexes for appropriate web pages for you. The ones that I have found to be among the best are:
My Yahoo at http://www.yahoo.com
My Excite at http://www.excite.com

Intelligent search engines.

Search engines are becoming more intelligent, and a case can be made that they are moving from very basic and primative systems through to quite advanced pieces of software. One important aspect here is that they should be able to take a query, understand what is being asked and provide appropriate information.

http://www.citizen1.com/ Citeline demonstration
http://www.debriefing.com/ Search engine which finds most appropriate sites and gives summaries, links and other info
http://www.arisem.com/eng/products/digout4u.htm Dig Out 4U is a commercial product
http://lorca.compapp.dcu.ie/fusion/search.html Fusion two requires netscape commicator
http://google.stanford.edu/ Ranks the importance of pages using their own alogrythem
http://thewebtools.com/ mata Hari
http://www.searchpad.com/ The first in a family of products from Satyam Spark Solutions, SearchPad searches, gathers, organizes, analyzes and presents online information in an easy to understand format. SearchPad is the first tool of its kind to support interactive user feedback to filter and deliver organized information. With SearchPad You gain more control over the information explosion occurring on the internet.
Letizia: An Agent That Assists Web Browsing. http://lieber.www.media.mit.edu/people/lieber/Lieberary/Letizia/Letizia-Intro.html
Wisewire at http://www.wisewire.com/ This is another commercial product, and is well suited to intranet use. It allows users to specify an area of interest, download the results and then rank them as useful or not. This information is then passed back to the search engine, which is able to re-order results.

Software packages to download

WebFerret at http://www.ferretsoft.com/ This isn't exactly an intelligent agent, but it is a useful tool which acts like a multi-search agent and interrogates a variety of search engines for you and displays the results neatly and compactly. There is a commercial version available, but you can also download a freebie.
WebCompass http://arachnid.quarterdeck.com/qdeck/products/wc20/ Comes configured to search 35 search engines; easily add new ones at any time Results of searches ranked for relevance on 1 to 100 scale. Builds comprehensive summaries of results gather from searching. Automatically organizes results by topic. Automatically updates results. Uses search results to fine tune further searches. Includes customizable relational database of search topics. Includes thesaurus to assist in searching
http://www.iconovex.com/products/echosearch/echos.htm EchoSearch resides on your hard disk and will parse your query to a number of different search engines, and then provides you with a number of options to view or download the data. It is also very useful in that it gives summaries of the data that it finds on a particular subject. Although it is a commercial product you can view a demo of the software at their site and download a free trial version.
Zurfrider http://www.zurf.com/home/ Interrogates a large number of search engines, removes duplicates, checks for dead links, clarifies the results with you by asking questions and places the data into appropriate folders. Although it is a commercial product ($19.95) there is a free version to download and try.
The Autonomy suite of programs at http://www.autonomy.com/index.html There are a variety of different products, such as: The Daily briefing, which monitors a wide variety of different sites to seek out news in accordance with the users interests and displays these in an html format. Live Alert, which is a real time updating service, User profiling to find out exactly what will be of interest to a particular person and then produces content accordingly and Communities, which is software designed to put people with similiar interests in touch with each other - perfect for a large company intranet.

Updating bots

http://www.mnis.net/drlinktour/ Document Retrieval using Linguistic Knowledge
http://www.arisem.com/eng/products/im4u.htm Information Miner4U is software designed to conduct automatic watch on the Web.
http://www.signiform.com/InfoTicker/InfoTicker.htm InfoTicker is a simple Java personal agent which allows you to gather, parse, and monitor Internet content in real time. It polls the net with your interests at regular intervals and summarizes the results in one place. Place InfoTicker in the corner of your screen, enter what you're interested in, and glance at it every once in a while to see what's up-or be notified by an alert window.
http://www.javelink.com/ javElink is the complete page change monitoring service! Your account is free for up to 20 pages--just name any pages you want to monitor. javElink finds changes daily, and remembers the page history, too. Paid accounts may receive changes by e-mail.
http://www.boutell.com/morning/ Morning Paper automatically visits your favorite web sites every so often to find out what's new, and presents a summary of what's new on each page as part of a "newspaper" which it displays in your web browser.
http://informant.dartmouth.edu/ The Informant is a FREE! service that will save your favorite search engine queries and web sites, check them periodically, and send you email whenever there are new or updated web pages.
http://www.dev-com.com/~rfactory/webcatcher.html The `Webcatcher' searches the web for the latest sites and sends you regular updates listing any new sites which match topics of interest.
Newsroute at http://newsroute.cs.umass.edu/~newsroute/ is a bot created at the University of Massachusettes. It is an Information Filtering service that routes USENET articles. If you become a member, you will be able to create a set of profiles, or queries. NewsRoute will read through the incoming USENET feed, and save articles which it believes are relevent to your query.
http://www.pointcast.com/ Pointcast is a daily updating service, which is entirely free. It keeps you up to date on all the latest world events from a wide variety of different sources and can be personalised to deliver the exact content that you are interested in. It lists the headlines and a simple click brings the webpage directly to your desktop.

Daily newspapers

CRAYON, or CReAte Your Own Newspaper allows you to do exactly that. Quick and effective, well worth using. At http://crayon.net/

Miscellaneous bots

http://www.extempo.com/Character_Gallery/Max_Info.html Max is a bot that is designed to answer questions and take people on tours of web sites. Although the demonstration has been set up to show you around a local site, it gives you a good idea of how you would be able use such an agent to provide first level help and guidance to new users, either using the Web or an intranet.
The Career agent at http://careeragent.computerworld.com/~start/browse1.htm asks you about your skills, work preferences and so on, and will apparently help you find another job. I didn't stay at this site for very long, since it does ask an awful lot of questions, but if you are serious about looking for work elsewhere, it may be able to give you some useful assistance.

Resource sites

The Agent Society http://www.agent.org
The UMBC Agent Web http://www.cs.umbc.edu/agents/
Agent demonstrations http://www.agentsoft.com/demos/index.html
An agent newsletter can be found at http://www.cs.umbc.edu/agents/agentnews/