Software agent

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In computer science, a software agent is a computer program that acts for a user or other program in a relationship of agency, which derives from the Latin agere (to do): an agreement to act on one's behalf. Such "action on behalf of" implies the authority to decide which, if any, action is appropriate. [1] [2] Agents are colloquially known as bots , from robot . They may be embodied, as when execution is paired with a robot body, or as software such as a chatbot executing on a phone (e.g. Siri) or other computing device. Software agents may be autonomous or work together with other agents or people. Software agents interacting with people (e.g. chatbots, human-robot interaction environments) may possess human-like qualities such as natural language understanding and speech, personality or embody humanoid form (see Asimo).


Related and derived concepts include intelligent agents (in particular exhibiting some aspects of artificial intelligence, such as reasoning), autonomous agents (capable of modifying the methods of achieving their objectives), distributed agents (being executed on physically distinct computers), multi-agent systems (distributed agents that work together to achieve an objective that could not be accomplished by a single agent acting alone), and mobile agents (agents that can relocate their execution onto different processors).


The basic attributes of an autonomous software agent are that agents

Nwana's Category of Software Agent Nwana Category of Software Agents.gif
Nwana's Category of Software Agent

The term "agent" describes a software abstraction, an idea, or a concept, similar to OOP terms such as methods, functions, and objects.[ citation needed ] The concept of an agent provides a convenient and powerful way to describe a complex software entity that is capable of acting with a certain degree of autonomy in order to accomplish tasks on behalf of its host. But unlike objects, which are defined in terms of methods and attributes, an agent is defined in terms of its behavior [3] [ citation needed ].

Various authors have proposed different definitions of agents, these commonly include concepts such as

Distinguishing agents from programs

All agents are programs, but not all programs are agents. Contrasting the term with related concepts may help clarify its meaning. Franklin & Graesser (1997) [4] discuss four key notions that distinguish agents from arbitrary programs: reaction to the environment, autonomy, goal-orientation and persistence.

Intuitive distinguishing agents from objects

Distinguishing agents from expert systems

Distinguishing intelligent software agents from intelligent agents in AI

( Russell & Norvig 2003 )

Impact of software agents

Software agents may offer various benefits to their end users by automating complex or repetitive tasks. [6] However, there are organizational and cultural impacts of this technology that need to be considered prior to implementing software agents.

Organizational impact

Work contentment and job satisfaction impact

People like to perform easy tasks providing the sensation of success unless the repetition of the simple tasking is affecting the overall output. In general implementing software agents to perform administrative requirements provides a substantial increase in work contentment, as administering their own work does never please the worker. The effort freed up serves for a higher degree of engagement in the substantial tasks of individual work. Hence, software agents may provide the basics to implement self-controlled work, relieved from hierarchical controls and interference. [7] Such conditions may be secured by application of software agents for required formal support.

Cultural impact

The cultural effects of the implementation of software agents include trust affliction, skills erosion, privacy attrition and social detachment. Some users may not feel entirely comfortable fully delegating important tasks to software applications. Those who start relying solely on intelligent agents may lose important skills, for example, relating to information literacy. In order to act on a user's behalf, a software agent needs to have a complete understanding of a user's profile, including his/her personal preferences. This, in turn, may lead to unpredictable privacy issues. When users start relying on their software agents more, especially for communication activities, they may lose contact with other human users and look at the world with the eyes of their agents. These consequences are what agent researchers and users must consider when dealing with intelligent agent technologies. [8]


The concept of an agent can be traced back to Hewitt's Actor Model (Hewitt, 1977) - "A self-contained, interactive and concurrently-executing object, possessing internal state and communication capability."

To be more academic, software agent systems are a direct evolution of Multi-Agent Systems (MAS). MAS evolved from Distributed Artificial Intelligence (DAI), Distributed Problem Solving (DPS) and Parallel AI (PAI), thus inheriting all characteristics (good and bad) from DAI and AI.

John Sculley’s 1987 “Knowledge Navigator” video portrayed an image of a relationship between end-users and agents. Being an ideal first, this field experienced a series of unsuccessful top-down implementations, instead of a piece-by-piece, bottom-up approach. The range of agent types is now (from 1990) broad: WWW, search engines, etc.

Examples of intelligent software agents

Buyer agents (shopping bots)

Buyer agents [9] travel around a network (e.g. the internet) retrieving information about goods and services. These agents, also known as 'shopping bots', work very efficiently for commodity products such as CDs, books, electronic components, and other one-size-fits-all products. Buyer agents are typically optimized to allow for digital payment services used in e-commerce and traditional businesses. [10]

User agents (personal agents)

User agents, or personal agents, are intelligent agents that take action on your behalf. In this category belong those intelligent agents that already perform, or will shortly perform, the following tasks:

Monitoring-and-surveillance (predictive) agents

Monitoring and Surveillance Agents are used to observe and report on equipment, usually computer systems. The agents may keep track of company inventory levels, observe competitors' prices and relay them back to the company, watch stock manipulation by insider trading and rumors, etc.

service monitoring Resource monitoring 2.jpg
service monitoring

For example, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has an agent that monitors inventory, planning, schedules equipment orders to keep costs down, and manages food storage facilities. These agents usually monitor complex computer networks that can keep track of the configuration of each computer connected to the network.

A special case of Monitoring-and-Surveillance agents are organizations of agents used to emulate the Human Decision-Making process during tactical operations. The agents monitor the status of assets (ammunition, weapons available, platforms for transport, etc.) and receive Goals (Missions) from higher level agents. The Agents then pursue the Goals with the Assets at hand, minimizing expenditure of the Assets while maximizing Goal Attainment. (See Popplewell, "Agents and Applicability")

Data-mining agents

This agent uses information technology to find trends and patterns in an abundance of information from many different sources. The user can sort through this information in order to find whatever information they are seeking.

A data mining agent operates in a data warehouse discovering information. A 'data warehouse' brings together information from lots of different sources. "Data mining" is the process of looking through the data warehouse to find information that you can use to take action, such as ways to increase sales or keep customers who are considering defecting.

'Classification' is one of the most common types of data mining, which finds patterns in information and categorizes them into different classes. Data mining agents can also detect major shifts in trends or a key indicator and can detect the presence of new information and alert you to it. For example, the agent may detect a decline in the construction industry for an economy; based on this relayed information construction companies will be able to make intelligent decisions regarding the hiring/firing of employees or the purchase/lease of equipment in order to best suit their firm.

Networking and communicating agents

Some other examples of current intelligent agents include some spam filters, game bots, and server monitoring tools. Search engine indexing bots also qualify as intelligent agents.

Software development agents (aka software bots)

Software bots are becoming important in software engineering. [12] An example of a software bot is a bot that automatically repairs continuous integration build failures. [13]

Design issues

Issues to consider in the development of agent-based systems include

For software agents to work together efficiently they must share semantics of their data elements. This can be done by having computer systems publish their metadata.

The definition of agent processing can be approached from two interrelated directions:

Agent systems are used to model real-world systems with concurrency or parallel processing.

The agent uses its access methods to go out into local and remote databases to forage for content. These access methods may include setting up news stream delivery to the agent, or retrieval from bulletin boards, or using a spider to walk the Web. The content that is retrieved in this way is probably already partially filtered – by the selection of the newsfeed or the databases that are searched. The agent next may use its detailed searching or language-processing machinery to extract keywords or signatures from the body of the content that has been received or retrieved. This abstracted content (or event) is then passed to the agent's Reasoning or inferencing machinery in order to decide what to do with the new content. This process combines the event content with the rule-based or knowledge content provided by the user. If this process finds a good hit or match in the new content, the agent may use another piece of its machinery to do a more detailed search on the content. Finally, the agent may decide to take an action based on the new content; for example, to notify the user that an important event has occurred. This action is verified by a security function and then given the authority of the user. The agent makes use of a user-access method to deliver that message to the user. If the user confirms that the event is important by acting quickly on the notification, the agent may also employ its learning machinery to increase its weighting for this kind of event.

Bots can act on behalf of their creators to do good as well as bad. There are a few ways which bots can be created to demonstrate that they are designed with the best intention and are not built to do harm. This is first done by having a bot identify itself in the user-agent HTTP header when communicating with a site. The source IP address must also be validated to establish itself as legitimate. Next, the bot must also always respect a site's robots.txt file since it has become the standard across most of the web. And like respecting the robots.txt file, bots should shy away from being too aggressive and respect any crawl delay instructions. [14]

Notions and frameworks for agents

See also

Related Research Articles

Computing Activity that uses computers

Computing is any activity that uses computers to manage, process, and communicate information. It includes development of both hardware and software. Computing is a critical, integral component of modern industrial technology. Major computing disciplines include computer engineering, software engineering, computer science, information systems, and information technology.

User interface means by which a user interacts with and controls a machine

The user interface (UI), in the industrial design field of human–computer interaction, is the space where interactions between humans and machines occur. The goal of this interaction is to allow effective operation and control of the machine from the human end, whilst the machine simultaneously feeds back information that aids the operators' decision-making process. Examples of this broad concept of user interfaces include the interactive aspects of computer operating systems, hand tools, heavy machinery operator controls, and process controls. The design considerations applicable when creating user interfaces are related to or involve such disciplines as ergonomics and psychology.

Bot may refer to:

Chatbot Program that simulates conversation

A chatbot is a piece of software that conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods. Such programs are often designed to convincingly simulate how a human would behave as a conversational partner, although as of 2019, they are far short of being able to pass the Turing test. Chatbots are typically used in dialog systems for various practical purposes including customer service or information acquisition. Some chatbots use sophisticated natural language processing systems, but many simpler ones scan for keywords within the input, then pull a reply with the most matching keywords, or the most similar wording pattern, from a database.

Music information retrieval (MIR) is the interdisciplinary science of retrieving information from music. MIR is a small but growing field of research with many real-world applications. Those involved in MIR may have a background in musicology, psychoacoustics, psychology, academic music study, signal processing, informatics, machine learning, optical music recognition, computational intelligence or some combination of these.

Chatbot may mean:

Implementation is the realization of an application, or execution of a plan, idea, model, design, specification, standard, algorithm, or policy.

An autonomous agent is an intelligent agent operating on an owner's behalf but without any interference of that ownership entity. An intelligent agent, however appears according to an IBM white paper as:

Intelligent agents are software entities that carry out some set of operations on behalf of a user or another program with some degree of independence or autonomy, and in so doing, employ some knowledge or representation of the user's goals or desires.

An Internet bot, also known as a web robot, robot or simply bot, is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the Internet. Typically, bots perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone. The largest use of bots is in web spidering, in which an automated script fetches, analyzes and files information from web servers at many times the speed of a human. More than half of all web traffic is made up of bots.

User interface design design of user interfaces for machines and software

User interface design (UI) or user interface engineering is the design of user interfaces for machines and software, such as computers, home appliances, mobile devices, and other electronic devices, with the focus on maximizing usability and the user experience. The goal of user interface design is to make the user's interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals.

Web scraping, web harvesting, or web data extraction is data scraping used for extracting data from websites. Web scraping software may access the World Wide Web directly using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or through a web browser. While web scraping can be done manually by a software user, the term typically refers to automated processes implemented using a bot or web crawler. It is a form of copying, in which specific data is gathered and copied from the web, typically into a central local database or spreadsheet, for later retrieval or analysis.

Intelligent agent

In artificial intelligence, an intelligent agent (IA) refers to an autonomous entity which acts, directing its activity towards achieving goals, upon an environment using observation through sensors and consequent actuators. Intelligent agents may also learn or use knowledge to achieve their goals. They may be very simple or very complex. A reflex machine, such as a thermostat, is considered an example of an intelligent agent.

In artificial intelligence, an embodied agent, also sometimes referred to as an interface agent, is an intelligent agent that interacts with the environment through a physical body within that environment. Agents that are represented graphically with a body, for example a human or a cartoon animal, are also called embodied agents, although they have only virtual, not physical, embodiment. A branch of artificial intelligence focuses on empowering such agents to interact autonomously with human beings and the environment. Mobile robots are one example of physically embodied agents; Ananova and Microsoft Agent are examples of graphically embodied agents. Embodied conversational agents are embodied agents that are capable of engaging in conversation with one another and with humans employing the same verbal and nonverbal means that humans do.

Outline of automation Overview of and topical guide to automation

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to automation:

Artificial intelligence, defined as intelligence exhibited by machines, has many applications in today's society. More specifically, it is Weak AI, the form of AI where programs are developed to perform specific tasks, that is being utilized for a wide range of activities including medical diagnosis, electronic trading platforms, robot control, and remote sensing. AI has been used to develop and advance numerous fields and industries, including finance, healthcare, education, transportation, and more.

A smart object is an object that enhances the interaction with not only people but also with other smart objects. Also known as smart connected products or smart connected things (SCoT), they are products, assets and other things embedded with processors, sensors, software and connectivity that allow data to be exchanged between the product and its environment, manufacturer, operator/user, and other products and systems. Connectivity also enables some capabilities of the product to exist outside the physical device, in what is known as the product cloud. The data collected from these products can be then analyzed to inform decision-making, enable operational efficiencies and continuously improve the performance of the product.

Natural-language programming (NLP) is an ontology-assisted way of programming in terms of natural-language sentences, e.g. English. A structured document with Content, sections and subsections for explanations of sentences forms a NLP document, which is actually a computer program. Natural languages and natural-language user interfaces include Inform7, a natural programming language for making interactive fiction, Ring, a general-purpose language, Shakespeare, an esoteric natural programming language in the style of the plays of William Shakespeare, and Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine, using natural-language input. Some methods for program synthesis are based on natural-language programming.

This glossary of artificial intelligence terms is about artificial intelligence, its sub-disciplines, and related fields.

A social bot is an agent that communicates more or less autonomously on social media, often with the task of influencing the course of discussion and/or the opinions of its readers. It is related to chatbots but mostly only uses rather simple interactions or no reactivity at all. The messages it distributes are mostly either very simple, or prefabricated, and it often operates in groups and various configurations of partial human control (hybrid). It usually targets advocating certain ideas, supporting campaigns, or aggregating other sources either by acting as a "follower" and/or gathering followers itself. In this very limited respect, social bots can be said to have passed the Turing test. If the expectation is that behind every social media profile there should be a human, social bots always use fake accounts. This is not different from other social media API uses.

Most of the terms listed in Wikipedia glossaries are already defined and explained within Wikipedia itself. However, glossaries like this one are useful for looking up, comparing and reviewing large numbers of terms together. You can help enhance this page by adding new terms or writing definitions for existing ones.


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