SITE VISIT: Talk to My Agent

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Science  14 Jan 2000:
Vol. 287, Issue 5451, pp. 187b
DOI: 10.1126/science.287.5451.187b

Along with millions of human surfers, the Internet is crawling with so-called “intelligent software agents”: computer programs that sift and retrieve useful information from cyberspace. One kind of “searchbot,” for example, adds new Web pages to a pile probed by the search engine AltaVista. Other robots can be customized to tell a user only about, say, new items on The New York Times Web site.

Computer scientists and others interested in the inner workings of these knowbots, infobots, chatterbots, and other critters of code can turn to AgentWeb, run by researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The site isn't aimed at people who simply want to download an agent (there's no comprehensive list), but for pros it's packed with information recently reorganized like a Yahoo directory—a hierarchical, continuously updated listing of links. A section called Agent 101 lists books, tutorials, and other introductory material; pointers lead to ongoing agent R&D projects in academia and industry. For those who really want to get under the hood, there are codes of conduct and standards of 'bot behavior on the Web, as well as entries on various agent programming languages. Also included are links dear to every scientist's heart: which agencies are funding work on software agents.

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