I recently blogged about sofware agents, mostly musing about how to reconcile their inherent rationality with our lack thereof as human beings.
But today I noticed an article by John Markoff in the New York Times entitled “A Software Secretary That Takes Charge ”, which considers some companies trying to build services based on such agents. The article called my attention to the recent death of AI pioneer Oliver Selfridge, who coined the term “intelligent agents” and devoted much of his career to trying to make them a reality.
Markoff notes that “efforts to build useful computerized assistants have consistently ended in failure”, which raises the question of why any student of history is still investing in this area. Markoff quotes an answer from Rearden Commerce founder / CEO Patrick Grady:
The promise of the Web 2.0 era of the Internet has been the interconnection of Web services. Mr. Grady says he has a far easier task today because the heavy lifting has been done by others.
“This is the connective tissue that sits on top of the Web and brings you more than the sum of the parts,” he said. “I set out to deliver on the longstanding ‘holy grail of user-centric computing,’ a ‘personal Internet assistant.’”
In other words, intelligent agents are possible now because of Web 2.0 and service-oriented architecture. An interesting theory–and I can certainly accept it in theory. But I’m curious how it plays out in practice. It seems to me that there’s a lot of “heavy lifting” still waiting to be done.