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Intelligent Agents
- Your Future Personal Secretaries

In today's networked world, where the sophistication of computer hardware and software is ever increasing, making available enormous amounts of information, the necessity of small user interfaces which guide the user in getting the right information is of great significance. These interfaces should observe and learn user preferences and habits and automate actions that the user routinely performs. Intelligent agents are new class of software entities that assist people and act on their behalf analogous to a private secretary or concierge.

Intelligent agents can help you by finding and filtering information, personalizing it for you, negotiating for services automating tedious tasks, and taking actions you delegate. Intelligent agents work behind the scenes to automate repetitive tasks, detect key business issues and alert users on a need -to-knowbasis and can be lifesavers in the sea of information that grows and surrounds us everyday.

Intelligent agents are an emerging technology and a lot of research is going on in the field of intelligent agents and this is a relatively new area. The finance that needs to be invested in the development work may restrict companies from making a stand alone product, but these can add unlimited value to the existing products. This article tries to tell you about the various categories of agents, explore the value of agents and discuss possible application areas.

Little inside the Technology

A few of the several abilities of intelligent Agents are :

The various definitions of Intelligent Agents and their abilities can be summarised in one line. An intelligent Agents is a software that assists people and acts on their behalf. Do you wonder how this can be made possible when we humans perform hundreds of un-related mutually exclusive and varieties of tasks? It is true that not all of our routine activities can be done by one single intelligent Agent. There are various categories of Intelligent Agents. There are various categories of Intelligent Agents. They are,

The current applications of agents are experimental and are focusing on rather basic agent applications, as these lead to demonstrable results within a definite time and within the budget. The requirements of intelligent agents considered while building these applications are:

The possible application areas where agents technology can be used are:

Systems and network Management

Intelligent agents can be used to enhance systems management software and reduce the complexity of systems being managed especially in the era of network centric computing. For example,

Mobile Access/Management

Users want to be more mobile as the computing becomes more pervasive and network centric computing shifts the focus from the desktop to the network. Demand would be to access network resources from any location despite the bandwidth limitations. The advantages are:

As the agents traverse the network performing its designated task, it gathers information and finally reports the results to the person who initiated the agent. (Recently a project on Mobile Agents was undertaken by the NPG group of Global R&D as a part of the IP initiative.)

Mail and Messaging

Mails and Messaging is an area where intelligent agents can find lot of use. Users want more intelligent features like automatically prioritise and organise their e-mail, address mail by organisational function rather than by person. Intelligent agents can facilitate all these functions by operating on behalf of the user according to the pre-set rules. The rules can be set by observing the user's behaviour over a period of time and trying to find patterns.

Information Access and Management

Given the rise in popularity of the internet and the explosion of data available to users, this might prove to be a great area for intelligent Agents. Here, intelligent agents are helping users not only with search and filtering, but also with categorisation, prioritisation, selective dissemination, annotation, and (collaborative) sharing of information and documents. You can get the right information at the right time!

An application called Webby (web browser intelligence personal web agent) which is a personal web agent designed to personalize one's web browsing, reduce tedious tasks, take actions on the user's behalf, and offer assistance is developed by IBM can be seen at http://www.networking.ibm.com/wbi/wbitour.html which is also available for download.

Collaboration

Collaboration is a rapidly expanding area in which users work together on shared documents, using personal video-conferencing, or sharing additional resources through the network. Not only do users in this area need an infrastructure that will allow robust, scaleable sharing of data and computing resources, but also need other functions to help them actually build and manage collaborative teams of people, and manage their work products.

The available applications as of date are Novell's Groupwise and Lotus notes.

Workflow and Administrative Management

Administrative management includes both workflow management and areas such as computer/telephony integration, Where processes are defined and then automated. In these areas, users need not only to make processes more efficient, but also to reduce the cost of human agents. Much as in the messaging area, intelligent agents can be used to ascertain, then automate user wishes or business processes.

Electronic commerce is another growing area fuelled by the popularity if the internet. The intelligent Agents can obtain expert advice both prior to the purchase (like technical specifications,viable configurations etc.,) and for service and support afterward. Both buyers and sellers need to automate handling of their "electronic financial affairs".

Intelligent agents can assist in electronic commerce in a number of ways

Adaptive User Interfaces

As capabilities and applications of computers improve, the user interface needs to accommodate the increase in complexity. Computers interfaces need to learn user habits and preferences and adapt to individuals.,

The Future

There are critisisms that intelligent agents are nothing but latest hype but Intelligent Agents are in use today helping make applications easier to use and their popularity is increasing rapidly .One of the several reasons which make Intelligent Agents the most important computing paradigm in next ten years is-even in the present scenario of powerful desktops, greater bandwidth, rapidly increasing internets and intranets, abundent amounts of information sources, we have only 16 hours in the day available to work!

Resources

http://www.networking.ibm.com/iag/iaghome.html
http://www.msci.memphis.edu/~franklin/Agentprog.html
http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/users/rwab1/ag-papers.html
http://www.cs.umbc.edu/agentslist/ (The software Agents Mailing List)


[HOME] Article dated: Nov' 1997