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Agents Redux

Pages: p. 2

Intelligent Readers,

My editorial in the last issue, "Where Are All the Intelligent Agents?" seems to have struck something of a nerve. I put a preprint version in my research blog and received numerous comments. On the basis of this response, I put a pointer to the editorial on various agent-related mailing lists and invited comments that we could print in the magazine. I was quite gratified with the response, not just because of the number of emails I received but also because I learned about projects I wasn't previously aware of.

As you can probably guess, some of the responses disagreed with my editorial. Several people commented that I was too focused on AI sorts of agents and ignoring work from A-life, robotics, and other agent-related disciplines. Actually, I agree with that. I hope it was clear from the context that I was primarily concerned with the sorts of intelligent-agent applications that I had been supporting during my time as a funding agent, and not with the more general area. This isn't to say that I see a lot of examples of these other agents (although I do admit to looking longingly at Roombas in the stores), but I am much less personally involved in that area and didn't intend to comment on it.

A number of emails came from people involved in agent research in various ways. I invited some of them to turn their emails into letters to the editor for publication, and I'm pleased that several agreed. These letters appear in this issue (see page 3), and I certainly invite more in the future. This is an important area of AI research, and I'm glad to support this discussion in this magazine.

One or two responses were the email equivalent of expletive-laden messages written in crayon. I realize that research can be an emotional issue, especially for those of us who devote our lives to these new technologies, but ad hominem attacks aren't terribly enlightening. I apologize if I offended anyone, and I do invite responses from those who disagree with me, but please keep the messages civil and suitable for publication.

I was particularly struck by a response from Peter McBurney and Michael Luck, who pointed out that a number of agent-based systems have been deployed in business-to-business applications. I invited them to contribute a column about these agents for the magazine. I'm happy to say they accepted; their article appears in this issue ("The Agents Are All Busy Doing Stuff!" on page 6). I hope you will find it as enlightening as I did.

I'm particularly thankful to the many correspondents who pointed me toward particular projects in the agents area, several of which I wasn't familiar with. Reading those papers and exploring those project Web sites have increased my understanding of the state of the practice in this field. I still largely stand by my original editorial, but I realize that I underestimated the progress in the field.

In learning about this research and some of these projects, I realized there was an area of applied agents research (for lack of a better name) that would greatly interest our readers. So, we've decided to start a department on AI and intelligent agents in the near future. We hope to have a column every couple of issues that discusses the use of various agent technologies in a wide range of applications. If you're working in this area, please keep an eye out for this, and I hope we'll hear about your work.

So thanks to all who read and responded. Given the response to my editorial and the positive results for the magazine, it's clear I'll need to attempt to strike more nerves in the future!

I look forward to hearing from you.



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