Computers are as ubiquitous as automobiles and toasters, but exploiting their capabilities still seems to require the training of a supersonic test pilot. VCR displays blinking a constant 12 noon around the world testify to this conundrum. As interactive television, palmtop diaries and "smart" credit cards proliferate, the gap between millions of untrained users and an equal number of sophisticated microprocessors will become even more sharply apparent. With people spending a growing proportion of their lives in front of computer screens--informing and entertaining one another, exchanging correspondence, working, shopping and falling in love--some accommodation must be found between limited human attention spans and increasingly complex collections of software and data.
Computers currently respond only to what interface designers call direct manipulation. Nothing happens unless a person gives commands from a keyboard, mouse or touch screen. The computer is merely a passive entity waiting to execute specific, highly detailed instructions; it provides little help for complex tasks or for carrying out actions (such as searches for information) that may take an indefinite time. (Maes, 1994)
Such is the current state of computer technology and consumer use of that technology. People all over the world use their computer as a dead and lifeless tool, something that must be manipulated by specific procedures to get the desired results. However, some people are noticing the capabilities of computers to be active, intelligent, motivated, almost life-like. Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a dream of many ever since computers were first made. People tried all kinds of "tricks" with computer codes to get a computer to be intelligent, to recognize language, motion, the external world, etc. Other people worked on making machines capable of human-like motions, concentrating on designing robots rather than intelligences. The more recent attempts in the field of AI have been more biological in nature, be it neural networks patterned after our own brain to various implimentations of genetic algorithms (implying mutating, darwinistic, simulated "life" in a simulated environment).
Real world applications of AI have been accomplished in the form of expert systems. Expert systems usually encompass the knowledge of a particular field as known by an expert or group of experts. A popular example of an expert system occurs in medicine. Typically a medical expert system is available to general practitioners who can consult the expert system in specific fields that would be too much for one person to know, such that if there was something wrong with a patient's head/brain, the generalist could consult with the expert system coded with the knowledge of brain surgeons.
The search for a way to make an artifical intelligence and the previous results in pragmatic applications have come together in the latest method of AI research, that of software agents or user agents.
To its end user, or master, the agent is a personal assistant--its correspondent within the computer's, communications and software landscape in which it works. It is a proactive artifact that can perform fairly sophisticated tasks and can also exhibit learning abilities. The agent:
-Knows about the user, his or her wishes and perferred model of operation
-Is informed about other correspondent agents, including their profiles and work patterns
-Is able to collect, handle, and present information to its master's satisfaction
-Can structure system elements as required to tailor solutions to real-time users' needs. (Chorafas, p.4)
This project was produced for PSY 380, Social Psychology of Cyberspace, Spring, 1998, at Miami University.
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