"[...] it often is impossible to identify the effects of a technology. Consider the now ubiquitous computer. In the mid-1940s, when digital computers were first built, leading pioneers presumed that the entire country might need only a dozen or so. In the mid-1970s, few expected that within a decade the PC would become the most essential occupational tool in the world. Even fewer people realised that the PC was not a stand-alone technology, but the hub of a complex technological system that contained elements as diverse as on-line publishing, e-mail, computer games and electronic gambling."
from "Cyber-Seers: Through A Glass, Darkly" by G. Pascal Zachary


In this chapter we will take a cautious look into the future of agents [1]  and the agent-technique.
To do so, in each section one important aspect related to, or one party involved in it, will be looked at more closely. First general remarks will be made about it. Next, where possible, a rough chronology of expected and announced events and developments is sketched to give an idea of what may be expected with respect to this party.[2]  The given chronologies are divided into three periods:
"short term", relating to the period one to two years from now (i.e. from now up to and including 1997);
"medium term", relating to the period three to five years from now (i.e. from 1998 until the year 2000);
"long term", relating to the period from six years from now and beyond (i.e. the period beyond the year 2000).
This partition is rather arbitrary, but it is the most practical and workable compromise.

Another thing that may look rather arbitrary is the list of parties that have been selected for a further examination. It - indeed - could have been much longer, but we have chosen to look only at those parties and techniques of which it is (almost) certain that they will be involved in, or have influence on, future agent developments.
The depth of the examination may also appear rather superficial. However, it seemed more sensible to "just" describe those factors and issues that will influence developments (and to clarify and illustrate them wherever possible), than to make bold predictions (implicating that the future is straightforward and easy to predict) which are very hard to found with facts;

"Depending on the addressed area, carrying out [such an] analysis may be more or less easy: policy and regulatory trends for instance are quite easy to identify and understand. Business strategy too can be more or less easily deciphered. Yet this may already be a lot more complex since there is often a part of guessing or gambling behind corporate moves. Consumers' interest can also be guessed, for instance in the light of the skyrocketing popularity of the Internet or the multiplication of commercial on-line PC services.
The most difficult part of the exercise may in fact be to gauge the economic, social and cultural impact of new applications
[such as agents]. Indeed, their visibility is still limited, making it all the more difficult to assess their penetration in the social fabric and in public interest areas."
from "An Overview of 1995's Main Trends and Key Events"
in Information Society Trends, special issue

Yet another compromise is the distribution of information over the various sections and the remarks that are made about it: there is quite some overlap in both of these.
The reason for this is twofold. Firstly, there is quite a lot of information and remarks that fit into more than one section. The section it has been put in now is the one that it is thought to fit in best, or the one where it was the most practical to put it in. Secondly, some of the mentioned parties (such as suppliers) can play more than one role and are linked to other parties. These links and roles are given in the various sections, but information about the involved parties is given only once.

[1] Note that whenever in this chapter things are being said about "agents", the words "agent-based applications" should be thought off as well wherever possible and applicable.
[2] It is probably needless to say that all of the expectations in the chronologies, are rather good guesses than hard facts.

 previous page  next page  to the chapter's TOC  to the main TOC

"Intelligent Software Agents on the Internet" - by Björn Hermans