In the short term, basic agent-based software may be expected to emerge from research, e.g. basic interface agents such as mail filtering or calendar scheduling agents. Basic mobile agent services will also be provided now.

A "threat" in especially this period is that many software producers will claim that their products are agents or agent-based, whereas in reality they are not. In fact, the first manifestations of this are already becoming visible:

"[...] we are already hearing of 'compression agents' and 'system agents' when 'disk compressors' and 'operating systems' would do respectively, and have done in the past."
quote taken from [NWAN96]

On the other hand, mainly from the domain of academic research, an opposite trend is starting to become visible as well, namely that of a further diversification and elaboration of (sub-)agent concepts. The origins of this lie in the constant expansion of the agent concept: it already is starting to get too broad to be used in any meaningful way. Therefore logical and workable sub-classes of agents, such as information agents and interface agents, are being stipulated and defined by researchers.

Available (i.e. offered by a significant number of producers/vendors) agent-applications will allow users to specify a query/request by means of written sentences (which may not be ambiguous). Agents will then search for information with the aid of indices available at the source(s) (irrespective of the application that has developed the index). Searches can be based on keywords, but concepts may be conveniently used as well.
The first mobile agents will too become available now.

Agents that are really used (by a significant number of users) are the well-known wizards. Wizards can be used to guide a user through some procedure (which may be creating a table in a word processor, but they can also be used to launch or set-up agents), and can pop-up when needed to give a user some advice or hints.
Also used in this period are agents that can be used for information retrieval (where the user is helped by one or more agents, which communicate with the user by means of a personalised user interface).

In this period, setting up agent-based applications is that difficult, that only skilled users (such as researchers or software developers) are able to do this. It may be expected that a special branch of companies or organisations will emerge in this period which consist of professionals that set-up agents for others. As time goes by, and agents get more user-friendly to install (or agents will even be able to install their software themselves), the need for this profession should disappear again: toward 1998 it is expected that agent-based applications become available that can be set-up by end users themselves.




In this period more elaborated agent applications are available and used, as more mobile and information agent applications and languages will become available. It is also by this time that the outlines of the most important agent-related standards should become clear.
The different agent sub-types of the short term, will now start to mature, and will be the subject of specialised research and conferences.

The first multi-agent systems, which may be using both mobile and non-mobile agents, and most probably are using a heterogeneous architecture, will be entering the market somewhere around 1998 or 1999. Significant usage of these systems may be expected at the turn of the century.
It is also at this time that agents that are able to interact with other agents managed by other applications, are becoming available. Because of their increased usage, agents will probably by this time generate more traffic on the Internet than people do.

Around 1998-1999, agent applications can and will be set-up by significant numbers of end-users themselves. Expectations are that a few years later, agents that are able to do this themselves (i.e., a user agent "sees" a need, and "proposes" a solution to its user in the form of a new agent) will become available.

Agent-empowered software that is as effective as a research librarian for content search will be available in 1998 [1], and may be expected to be used by a significant number of users near the year 2000.
Agents that can understand a non-ambiguous, written request will be used in 1998 as well, just like indices that are based on a concept search (such as Oracle's Context). It will probably not be until the year 2000, before the first agent applications are available that can understand any written request, made using normal natural language (interaction with the user is used to resolve ambiguities in these requests).



Beyond the year 2000, it is very hard to predict well what might happen:

"We may expect to see agents which approximate true 'smartness' in that they can collaborate and learn, in addition to being autonomous in their settings. They [...] posses rich negotiation skills and some may demonstrate what may be referred to, arguably, as 'emotions'.
[...] It is also at this stage society would need to begin to confront some of the legal and ethical issues which are bound to follow the large scale fielding of agent technology."
from [NWAN96]

End users may be expected to really start using anthropomorphic user interfaces. Agents will more and more be interacting with agents of other applications, will more or less set themselves up without the help of their user, and will get more powerful and more intelligent.
Users can state requests in normal language, where agents will resolve such problems as ambiguity by making use of user preferences and the user model (the expected date for such agent functionality to be available will at the earliest be in 2005).

[1] Already, the first user-operated search engines which support conceptual searches are becoming available. The Infoseek Guide as offered by Infoseek Corporation is an example of such a search engine.

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