have software agents declined?

Have efforts toward developing effective software agents declined?

During the 1990s, it seemed as if "personal assistants", "intelligent agents", "bot", - whatever you want to call them - were poised to take over the Internet.

For what it's worth, Wikipedia does a fine job of defining what an "agent" is - or rather, what is not an agent.

Looking at a reference search site, such as Google Scholar, shows thousands and thousands of research papers from one PhD candidate or another who proposes a scheme or an architecture for agent-based simulation, etc. Given such a wealth of plans, where are the commercial successes?

Yet, looking at some of the sites which catalog work on agents, such as UMBC AgentWeb or BotSpot, it seems as if new items tapered off after the year 2000.

What happened? My hunch is that several things happened at once...

  • Circa 1997, Pattie Maes and company at MIT Media Lab emphasized having "agent" technology embedded within online communities, with the success of Firefly.

  • Circa 2000, the Internet "bubble" burst, but the successful examples among the so-called Web 2.0 firms - such as Google, Yahoo, MSN, Amazon, eBay - leveraged the notion of agency and personalization with their browser-based features and web services.

So far, no nascent "H.A.L." has emerged to handle searches better than Google - at least not for most people. Even so, circa 2006, are there "intelligent agents" on the horizon? Our firm wants to understand this issue better, so we asked the question on Google Answers.

What do you think?

tags: agents


first day at the new job

It was my first full day at the new job. Still in stealth, we're making good progress. As the Technical Director, my day starts out with a quick peek through Gmail. What's come in from our Executive Producer in Australia before she called it a night? There's a blurb from Google Calendar, describing my agenda for Skype meetings throughout the day. Any news from LA while I was alseep? A few personal messages, then check through Google Reader for interesting news - maybe I'll forward one or two to my partners. Shut down the iBook, time to spend a while with the kids, feed the chickens and the koi, do a few dishes, clean up my new "office" space in the oven-temperature garage, and then off to my real workplace... Just a short ride away on the mtn bike to park for a few hours in a local coffeehouse. Austin has 40C weather, but early in the day it's not so bad; ozone levels won't peak until much later in the day.

Curling up to a mocha and iBook, it's time to twiddle for a while on the company's network architecture diagram, then get to real work for the day on Second Life, winding my way through LSL. Two aging Boomers at the next table are scamming/being scammed for an investment in a bogus Third World water treatment technology. They stare nervously, trying to detect anyone who's seeking to steal their IP. I have my headset blasting Thirteenth Step to drown out the ambient babble so I may focus. This is how life was meant to be.

After a few espresso shots and plenty accomplished, I put my helmet and cleats back on, and ride back home just about the time the sitter is leaving. At few more dishes done, never enough of that with two toddlers in the house. Watching the younger girl while my wife gets a breather. Later, I'm back in Skype to catch a conf call with our Executive Producer and Creative Director, getting prepared for some video production work.

I have time again. Time to spend with my wife and kids. Time to think about what I'm working to build online, or what I need to write. Time to nurture a small urban farm, to show my daughters the different kinds of trees on our property. Time to cook food, slow food, the kind of food that doesn't cost 4x for convenience while causing excess obesity amongst the population, such as most of Corporate America "enjoys" for lunch. Food that makes me feel healthy, working at full potential. Time to rest. Time to return to my regular practice of yoga, fitness training, and mountain biking. Time to exist in my own personal terroir. Time to become, again.

On one hand, some things about my previous job will be missed dearly: some good friends met (online or in the office) daily, a wonderful developer team in Russia, the health insurance package, ... but not the mainframes. On the other hand, I'm enjoying the entertainment business much, much better already :)

Meanwhile, I tend to judge my quality of life based on a couple of factors: how few times per week I must drive a car, and how many times per day I get to cook my own meal. So far, so good!

tags: Second Life, Slow Food, Terroir