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Intelligent Software Agents - Are We Ready? 100

Anti-Luddite writes In an article on the Internet Evolution site, analyst Tom Nolle discusses the potential of 'Intelligent Software Agent (ISA)' technology. He points to specific types such as 'search assistant ISAs,' which will inevitably flop before their potential is realized. He speaks favorably of the 'mobile ISA' which he says, 'involves dispatching mobile agents from one computer and delivering them to a remote computer for execution.' While hailing the potential of this new generation of agent technology, Nolle seems skeptical about our ability to prepare for and handle its emergence, particularly because of flaws in the agent research community."
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Intelligent Software Agents - Are We Ready?

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  • by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @01:47AM (#21846236) Journal
    I tried to read the article, but it was a little to fluffy... can someone with an MBA translate this for me?
    • Re:I'm confused (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dch24 ( 904899 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:24AM (#21846408) Journal
      Apparently no MBAs around. But Intelligent Agents are, not surprisingly, Artificial Intelligence. Strong A.I. [] is a term that A.I. researchers can't even agree on. I think it will happen after Duke Nukem Forever [].

      The article says that soon you will send out an agent from your mobile phone and it will find your coworkers who are wandering around the city. Then they will all get a text with directions to a meetup location. And the article has nothing to say about how you will react when you get a random text from HAL-9000 [] saying "Turn left and park at Starbucks for a mandatory meeting."
      • by Prof.Phreak ( 584152 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:18AM (#21846600) Homepage
        you get a random text from HAL-9000 saying "Turn left and park at Starbucks for a mandatory meeting." ...and then HAL will refuse to open the door to the said Starbucks---ruining the caffeine fix!
      • What's wrong with sending your co-workers an sms ? I don't need an 'agent' for that. Also, that pesky AI thing is a little harder than getting duke-nukem-forever to be finally written. And once wonderboy has blown all his $ at playing rocket scientist he'll be more or less forced to get back to work so there is a good incentive to eventually get it done, AI is pure research, not copycat stuff (or a silly game).
    • Re:I'm confused (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Venik ( 915777 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @04:33AM (#21846860)
      The article is fluff: nonexistent technology is being proposed to solve imaginary problems. Unless it is a sci-fi story, the rule of thumb should be: stop reading as soon as "A.I." is mentioned, for whatever follows is invariably a result of someone's thoroughly clueless but overactive imagination. Not only we are not close to building a "thinking" machine, we have no idea in which direction to concentrate our efforts.

      Computer hardware and software become increasingly more sophisticated. Sometimes a system is complex enough to momentarily appear intelligent from a layman's point of view. Any attempt at serious interaction, however, quickly clears the smoke screen. Creating AI - in the pure sense of this term, as being an artificial equivalent to our own intelligence - at the very minimum is like discovering an extraterrestrial civilization.

      Can one achieve this with "if...then" statements and "for" loops? Call me crazy, but somehow I don't think so.
      • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

        by teh moges ( 875080 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @07:15AM (#21847364) Homepage
        The main problem with traditional AI research has been an overstating of the possibilities. Natural language processing isn't as far off as most people think it is, but when it hits, people are going to criticize it by saying "why doesn't it understand me when I say 'lol, r u 4 reals?'?".
        Most AI talk is marketing hype, but the main idea to keep in mind when discussing AI is, as one of my lecturers said "AI, after it has been developed, is no longer AI". Think the minimax algorithm, when it was first used in chess, it was groundbreaking AI. Now it is considered a boring and obvious mathematical process.
        Another problem is that most scenarios people think "need" AI can be solved using standard processes. I don't need an agent to "(an ISA) making sure you don't get fast food restaurant references when you need a poet's name" (from TFA), I just type in "Poet" as another search query.
        I am a little biased, as I plan to move into smart computing after Uni, but there is a lot of good people doing good research into AI. It is a pity that most only see the marketing fluff and past overestimates by a few vocal researchers, rather then the good work being done by most in the field.
        • When i think of software "agents" i think more using ANN's as pattern analysis engines to crunch things into categories FOR the human. More likely would be finding correlations and bringing the set of states that these correlations are involved in to a humans attention to determine the meaning.

          does that count as AI or just a complex set of heuristics....or is there a difference?
          • Thought is just a complex set of heuristics.

            The above example is certainly an example of Artificial Intelligence as far as I am concerned (I'm biased, I also plan to study Pattern Recognition for my Masters). I don't see how taking information to a computer program and asking it to evaluate for correlations is dramatically different than taking a dataset to a coworker and asking for a possible explanation of results. I believe that the "AI future" is in the assistance or automation of human tasks.

            For exam
            • Then again, is Thought == Intelligence =). I suppose I would call it an artificial neocortex extension.

              Thats just my opinion on weighting the words though, i know it doesnt actually change anything you said =).
        • by Venik ( 915777 )
          There is a significant difference of opinion on what exactly "AI" means. Someone writes a heuristic algorithm and calls his fifty pages of C code "AI", just because it is based on intelligent search patterns. But it is the programmer's intelligence built into the code - not the computer's - and there is nothing artificial about it. Others understand AI as conscious self-awareness. That is when you tell your computer to rewrite your gigantic database, and the computer outsources the project to a contractor i
        • Remember when Latin was the preserve of the monks and the few educated? When if you wanted to talk to god, it had to be in Latin?

          Well if you want to lose a large number of the language recognition problems, you'd switch to Latin, a highly logical and structured language. So in the future, Latin will be used by the highly educated to converse with non-human intelligences. Funny how things go around...

      • Can one achieve this with "if...then" statements and "for" loops? Call me crazy, but somehow I don't think so.

        Well, since there are finite inputs, finite outputs, and a finite amount of time, ANY type of behavior imaginable can be implemented through nothing but "if...then" statements. But this is a minor philosophic point (on par with the argument you are making). Also, the human brain could be understood as a complicated system of "if...then" statements; "IF neuron X234v fires, THEN the following
        • by Venik ( 915777 )
          Computer vision, sorting, and chess playing are all, no doubt, interesting and complex tasks. None of them, however, require intelligence. Software breaks in unpredictable ways? Only in the sense that such break downs were not predicted - not because they could not be predicted. You have to agree that the robotic car you are describing is not really exploring anything. What it is doing is probably the opposite of intelligence.
          • Computer vision, sorting, and chess playing are all, no doubt, interesting and complex tasks. None of them, however, require intelligence.

            All of them (well, not 'sorting', but that example was not what I had intended) are considered part of AI.

            Only in the sense that such break downs were not predicted - not because they could not be predicted.

            My post essentially was arguing that it is important to study these systems before "releasing" them. This entails that I believe it is possible to predict t
            • by Venik ( 915777 )
              When you say that software can "misbehave" you are really just confusing yourself even further. Misbehaving implies a conscious decision not to follow a predetermine course of action. The software does not possess consciousness and is incapable of making such decisions. The result may very well be unexpected and interesting, but only because you failed to predict it.

              What the robot does - bouncing off the walls, leaving markers, tracking its position - are all preprogrammed behaviors to specific and limited
      • Parent post is yet another post that fails to pass the RTT (Reversed Turing Test (yes, I've just coined a new TLA)). There is no conclusive evidence that parent post was written by a human. It could just as easily have been constructed by an AI agent using well-known techniques like Eliza-like echoing, rule-based sentence parsing, synonym selection using online thesauruses and context sensitive neural nets, and so on.

        There is nothing on the slashdot page of the parent post's author that conclusively demon

        • by Venik ( 915777 )
          "When a strong AI comes to the internet (not if, but when), how will we identify it?" That's a good question. If it is a machine equivalent of human intelligence, then there should be no way to tell the two apart.
    • What flaws, specifically, does the community in question have?

      Nolle seems skeptical about our ability to prepare for and handle its emergence, particularly because of flaws in the agent research community.
  • holy shit! (Score:2, Informative)

    by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 )
    That has got to be the stupidest "yep, it's gonna happen" post I've ever read in my entire life. So I wanna process something but can't do it on my comp so the app sends out the executable data to a server, executes it, and sends back the result faster than my PC could have done it. Well here's a little question I ask to the person saying this is gonna take off. What happens when I send some modified data to the your server farm to process and it's actually a replicating virus. I say thanks for the DOS
    • Re:holy shit! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by phantomcircuit ( 938963 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @01:57AM (#21846300) Homepage

      Oh and I don't think companies would feel comfortable sending their customer data and credit card transactions off to be processed somewhere else and just hope nobody records the data
      Credit card transactions are processed by credit card processing companies, exactly what you say won't happen is already standard practice.
    • What about if you own both ends?

      It could be useful with mobile applications because of the physical limitations of cell phones, sending some hard number crunching back to your desktop might make sense.

      Also the server side could be trivialy protected by charging per flop instead of per use.

    • Re:holy shit! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by liquidpele ( 663430 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:00AM (#21846308) Journal
      I should have guessed the topic was something like that given the absolute unreadability of the article itself. I mean, I'm surprised you could get that out of it! I read it twice and still didn't know what the F*** it was about. Does Google translate have a language option of "stupid" ?
      • This smells a lot like the "wizards" fad from a few years ago. No thank you. Even though the similarity may only be only in how it's hyped, it seems poorly considered and all that. Might as well beat us all over the head with "Clippy".
    • So, only certified apps could be allowed to run on the target system, and some sort of security measure could be put into place--like, say, an md5 sum comparison.
    • by Verte ( 1053342 )

      And don't anyone dare say "oh, well they'll 100% protect it so only their code can run" cuz that's not gonna happen.

      I would like to point you at [] , they are putting together a provably secure operating system, which is to say, it can be proven with software whether two objects in the system can interact. Even if the design weirds you out at first, the literature is well worth a look if you're interested in computer security.

      [potential flamers: yes, the main Hurd-NG developers were talking about a port to it, it looks very very unlikely. Coyotos development is going swimmingly, but a secure, Free, c

    • I think this will happen for some things and not for others.

      Seriously, there are things at which agents are the much better solution, just not that many from what I have seen. There will be more opportunity for this in the workplace, in a controlled (or more controlled) environment. There will be use for this in VPNs between companies and from client to provider. I think the B2B world will see a much greater use for this incremental improvement on what are basically SOAP or simliar technologies calls.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by coaxial ( 28297 )

      Well here's a little question I ask to the person saying this is gonna take off. What happens when I send some modified data to the your server farm to process and it's actually a replicating virus. I say thanks for the DOS headquarters, guys. And don't anyone dare say "oh, well they'll 100% protect it so only their code can run" cuz that's not gonna happen.

      It's called proof signed code. It's been around. Read up [], and get a clue.

      Let's say MS Office 2010 lets you process your huge customer excel sheet mai

    • ``What happens when I send some modified data to the your server farm to process and it's actually a replicating virus.''

      I am working on a programming language that, among other things, will have a subset that cannot affect the outside world (except if functions that can are passed into a program written in this subset as arguments). In other words, code written in this subset of the language cannot open files, send packets over the network, etc. etc. The only thing it can do is return values.

      As long as sub
      • "In any case, you get the guarantee that programs written in this language terminate,"

        If your friend has a Turing complete language that can take an arbitrary program and determine if it completes or not (and to ensure it does complete requires you to determine that) then your friend is about to shake up the comp sci world like no other person has. Not only that, but it would reach far into mathematics (even simple math), physics, and many many other fields. A VERY large portion of people out there would li
        • ``If your friend has a Turing complete language ...''

          It's strongly normalizing (every program terminates), so it's not Turing complete.

          ``If, however, he doesn't have a Turing complete language then I question it's usefulness to the general public (I can ensure any program terminates out there by killing it after 1000 steps, but that isn't terribly useful and few have any need of a language to enforce that). Maybe there will be some specific market for it, I would guess there are some embedded systems that m
        • Actually, there is a good reason no computer scientist ever won a Nobel prize in Mathematics - there is no such prize. For speculation about the reasons you might want to read this [].
  • Spyware (Score:2, Insightful)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 )
    "ISA has sent your CC transaction to be processed at:"

    Yes, software making desicions i'm capable of making myself, what could go wrong!

    • that's why you set boundries on what it can do. eg. ignore ip range x... and domains ending in .ru or under *, use [blacklist of your choice] to define boundries for crawling/information exchange... besides that I would hope that sensitive information would be encrypted or inaccessible to the intelligent agent even if it did somehow decide to fail in such a manner as you describe.
  • Agents are BS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I once had a long discussion at a computer science conference with a guy who had just delivered a long and overly positive presentation on the future of agent computing. By the end of our discussion he admitted that it's basically a lot of bullshit with no foreseeable practical applications and a wealth of security problems. Just a convenient, buzzwordy way of getting research grants.
  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) <tom@thomaslee[ ] ['cop' in gap]> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @01:58AM (#21846302) Homepage
    From the article:

    > A truly relevant shared agent would filter out all ads and click-through trap sites,
    > and totally mess up the dynamic of the ad-supported Internet.

    Sounds like the Firefox plugin "adblock", which works wonders. Blocking ads is apparently also considered stealing by some []... huh. That's a tough sell.
    • Had to lol at that site.

      theft is when you take something that doesn't belong to you, not when you use something that's offered for free and refuse to donate (which is effectively what clicking on an ad is), and they certainly don't have the right to display anything on my computer. so they can whine all they want about adblock, myself and others like me will continue to block their trash, hell let's spread the word on how to spoof user-agent so they don't even get to block us.

    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:36AM (#21846466) Homepage

      A truly relevant shared agent would filter out all ads and click-through trap sites, and totally mess up the dynamic of the ad-supported Internet.

      That's a feature, not a bug. We're working on the problem. So are others.

      "Adblock" is just the beginning. There's Customize Google [], which will remove Google text ads. It's a Firefox extension. Also removes Google ad tracking.

      We have SiteTruth [], which is a form of "intelligent agent" that rates sites for legitimacy, digging in various data sources and reading through the site for business addresses to find out who's behind the site. (No clear business location on a commercial site yields a bad rating.) We mostly use Yahoo search, but we also have a front end for Google [] which leaves the ads in, then rates both the organic search results and the ads for legitimacy.

      As a general rule, advertised sites rate lower than organic search results. We see that with our system, and systems that rate by other criteria (user ratings, hostile code scanning, etc.) see similar results. This makes sense; if you're getting good positioning in organic search results, why run ads in the search engine? There's a clear "bottom-feeder effect" in search engine ads.

    • by p0tat03 ( 985078 )
      I love how that why-firefox-is-banned site has a gigantic, annoying, "flip-open" Flash ad on it... Yes... Even when appealing to its support base it cannot help but be greedy bastards...
      • I wouldn't have even thought they had a support base, but then I see the number of advertising apologists here on Slashdot (people who should, really, know better.)
  • by cats-paw ( 34890 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @02:07AM (#21846338) Homepage
    Just look around at the state of software and tell me with a straight face that intelligent software agent is not an oxymoron.

    File this under what could possibly go wrong.
    • >Just look around at the state of software and tell me with a straight face that intelligent software agent is not an oxymoron.

      No! Never heard of Clippy?
  • OK, here's my killer app - let me know when one of you writes it: An RSS feed filter that (intelligently, whatever that means) filters/scores stuff based on my interests and past performance. I just want a bot that's half as smart as one of my friends who says "dude, I just heard this joke that you're gonna love". Figure out what my tastes are, or at least what they AREN'T, and score new RSS articles accordingly. After you get that right, we can talk about filtering search results, or book/restaraunt/movie
    • wget -O - | grep -in boobs
    • You can do this with Mailvisa [] (and, I reckon, most other spam filters that use machine learning).

      With Mailvisa, it works like this:

      1. You read an article
      2. You decide if you liked it or not
      3. You put it in a "good articles" directory if you liked it, and a "bad articles" directory if you didn't
      4. Once you have collected a number of articles, you train Mailvisa on them
      5. Run every new article through Mailvisa. If it says it's spam, you probably don't want to read it
      6. Repeat from step 1

      Other Bayesian filters
    • Well, by that standard a TiVo would qualify as artificially intelligent.
  • It is still a bad idea 15 years later.

    I honestly don't think it will ever go anywhere.
  • In The Olden Days (c)(tm), i.e. before Web 2.0, we used to call this "client/server". Before that it was called "terminal/mainframe". Somewhere in there this was a concept called "distributed computing".
  • The most interesting application of anywhere nearly intelligent agents might very well be 'mindbots', the concept of having small programs take whiff of your thoughts and expand them, whether into complete and gramatically correct sentences, or into searches across the internet and to return some pretty package of bits and bytes for your reading pleasure (or productivity). You'd probably install a variety of these bots, one for some simple computer algebra system, another for reciting poetry, or one to repl
  • Magic Cap [] is being reinvented.

    The basic idea behind the General Magic system was to distribute the computing load of a typical user's tasks across many machines in the network.


    Programs could also be written in a new programming language, Telescript, which made communications a first-class primitive of the language. Telescript was compiled into a cross-platform bytecode in much the same fashion as the Java programming language, but interestingly was able to migrate between platforms. This radical i

    • I looked at the headline, and I thought Telescript! Well, actually I thought, Hey, that's that thingy language that whosis invented, I still have a reference manual for it around here somewhere...

      It was a bad idea in 1996, and it's still a pretty bad idea today.
  • "Third, "relevance" means picking results that match the users' needs. This conflicts with search engine operators that are being paid by advertisers to do the opposite.

    A truly relevant shared agent would filter out all ads and click-through trap sites, and totally mess up the dynamic of the ad-supported Internet. No technology company is getting venture money to build a search agent application that does that. "

    A very wise man once told me, you can make money either by generating value or transferring valu
  • Wait (Score:3, Funny)

    by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) * <slashdot.uberm00@net> on Saturday December 29, 2007 @03:39AM (#21846670) Homepage Journal
    I thought PCI replaced ISA ten years ago!
  • You can ask google to evaluate an expression for you, using data you don't provide.

    "mass of earth * 10" for example

    But really, anything more sophisticated would require programming knowledge, and programmatic access to free data does not generate ad revenue, so I don't see much interest in providing such services for free.

    So at least two more parts need to be developed for it to actually work:

    1) A user interface to generate code that does what a user wants and expects; but generated code of any real complex
  • And we call them malware. They're intelligent and resist detection, but they aren't working for us (well, most of us at least). Anyway, I'd rather have "intelligent" software agents that DO WHAT I TELL THEM and don't try to be clever, because then my computer ceases to be a tool that I can reliably manipulate.
    • yup , good post

      we have a real battle forming up I think and the issue is: who will be allowed to update our programming.

      I say: Only the OEM and only by means of official updates to the software that I have duly ordered, and registered, and installed.

      my computer is *my* computer, it ain't for some ditzy-bopper to play with

      now in this respect I note the Congress of these united States agrees with me; there being two bills
      H.R. 1525: Internet Spyware (I-SPY) Prevention Act of 2007
      H.R. 964: Securely Protect Your
  • I'm not sure what "intelligent software agents" are, really. But I'm sure I'm ready for them once they have something useful to offer me.
  • The roleplaying game Trinity [formerly Aeon Trinity] had different agents that could perform all kinds of actions for you. Intelligent Agents that are basically mobile agents - moving from one computing system to the next gathering the information you required. It wasn't an instantaneous way to get information (depending on how you played the game of course). Having said that, I think this kind of technology could be really cool. Especially in terms of Research - Imagine where you could simply tell your in
  • by BeerCat ( 685972 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @07:37AM (#21847434) Homepage
    Some years ago, talk of software agents was all the rage. The theory was that they could be despatched to search web sites, and find and return the relevant data to you. It was going to be "the next Big Thing"

    At the time, it seemed promising - the nascent Web was very hard to search (and the serious option was to have a paper "web directory").

    And then, in 1995, Altavista came along - a search engine that:
        1) worked
        2) was fast enough for those on dial-up

    and the whole notion died a death; direct typing in a search box beat nebulous user-programmable "agents" every time.

    So, it looks like it's "Welcome to 1994" all over again.
    • Even after AltaVista, there were a ton of search agents that you could download that claimed to do just that. Search out information you were interested in based on what you had looked for/read before. None of them worked well. Has anything changed?
    • Is a web spider not a "dispatch-able search agent?"
      • by BeerCat ( 685972 )
        It's possible that the original intention was to provide every web user with a web crawler, that would go and find only specific information for the individual.

        However, when someone comes up with "But why send out our web crawler every time we want a search? Computers are really good at repetitive tasks, so why not get the crawler to go out and find _everything_? that means that when I want to look for something, chances are it's already been tagged", then the need for individual agents diminishes.
  • Our PC's are not ready to share CPU cycles with this little programs. We need an intelligent OS that understand our priorities and doesn't gives the OS equivalent to the finger: The hourglass.
  • we want a computer that does what it's told

    not what some ditzy tells it in an effort to affect our behavior in some way

    so the issue comes down to who's controlling the programming

    i spot any IA running through my place I'm gonna fire phasers at it
  • of so called intelligent software agents is for producing worthless Ph.D. But they seem to be out of fashion even in that area, as of lately.
  • by spaceman375 ( 780812 ) on Saturday December 29, 2007 @10:36AM (#21848334)
    It's not the agents that are going out away from me, it's me who's going out away from my usual computer and data. When I think of agents, I think of MY programs and desktop following me around and running on whatever is closest to me. That means my agents will inevitably be hosted as a guest on all sorts of computers, from the places I work to where I shop. I'd want my agents to watch my credit cards and challenge any charge that doesn't come from whatever my current location is. They should get some cache space on the bus computer while I'm riding to work, and be able to display my personal desktop on any handy display I want it on. When I go to a friend's house my stuff should "follow" me (actually just setup communication to my home/work boxen transparently.) If there's enuf local resources, I'd want a local VM running my entire workstation setup, minus whatever sensitive data I want to keep in a vault.
    I don't want to "send out" agents on the net without me - I want a "cloud" of agents dragging my corner of the net along with ME as I go out in the real world.
  • Hmm, isn't this just another way of describing a virus or worm. You create a program and send it out into the wild to be executed on other people's computers? Or perhaps the difference is in the intention: These are nice worms.
  • Intelligent Agents were a big deal at the beginnings of the dotcom bubble era. There are plenty ofBooks [] and Articles [] about them. A good part of Java's sandbox security model evolved from the anticipation that we would be allowing agents to come visit our computers to do their intelligent activities. In the real world other technologies did a better job at whatever agents were designed to do. As the article points out, Google and other well constructed search engines are much better at finding online inform
  • I'm not ready to call the technology ISA (especially since it doesn't exist). Don't we have enough things called ISA [] already? What's wrong with just "agents"?
  • The older I get the funnier it becomes as well-explored technologies are "rediscovered" as "new".
    Ever hear of a company called General Magic? Magic Cap? This technology was deployed by Sony and AT&T just before the time that the public internet emerged. It had fundamental problems then and it still has those problems. Imagine allowing ACTIVE entities deployed by other individuals to "visit" your information sphere. Sun tried it at a very limited level with applets. Same problems.
  • Have you ever noticed how AI is almost automatically and religiiously attacked;
    ridiculed, denied.

    This is a really interesting phenomenon. I think when you dig beneath it,
    it's some kind of species-ism. A natural impulse to circle the wagons when
    confronted with some early noises indicating a vague but no doubt dangerous
    new threat.

    I think that the threat being perceived is not just that there might be other
    non-human things out there with intelligence and a will of there own, eventually,
    but also the threat of k

The one day you'd sell your soul for something, souls are a glut.