As the most important application environment, the Internet and its services, need to be taken into account as well when making predictions. Furthermore, more and more people are getting familiar with the Internet (in general), and more and more are making their first trips on it:

"Whether they have actually logged on to the Internet or not, Americans are optimistic about the new medium [...]. Eighty percent of those on-line, and 54 percent of those not on-line (59 percent of all respondents), say they believe the information on the Internet is useful."
from Business Wire

However, after the initial period of introduction, many new users run into several problems. One of the most important is having difficulties finding (specific) information:

"[...] there is a big difference between Americans' ideas about the value of information in Cyberspace, and their abilities to access that information: 54 percent of those on-line report they spend most of their time searching for information rather than finding it. And of those not on-line, 46 percent [!] believe that if they were on-line, they'd spend more time in search of information than actually finding it."
from Business Wire

Contrary to what may be expected, this does not have a negative influence on the perception of the usefulness of the Internet as a source of information:

"[...] Whether they are on-line or not, the Americans surveyed do not view the Internet as something that would complicate their lives. Further, they report that the new electronic medium with its oceans of information will neither complicate their lives nor does the prospect of going on-line make them feel they would be isolated from others. Of all survey respondents, 63 percent say the Internet does not complicate life for them. (87 percent of those on-line, and 57 percent of those not on-line agreed.) In fact, 58 percent of all those surveyed actually thought the Internet would simplify their lives."
from Business Wire

Agents can be of great help to users that are searching for (specific) information. In fact, from the preceding it can be concluded that it is of vital importance that this functionality is offered.
Moreover, agents can not only be used as information gatherers, but to provide suitable (and customised) interfaces to computers and the Internet as well.

Another pressing problem, which will at least exist in the forthcoming few years (i.e. short term), are resource strains. The increased use of the Internet (i.e. the demand for bandwidth) is outrunning its capacity.
It is hard to predict whether this is only a "temporary" problem (i.e. it will end within a few years). It all depends on whether or not certain parties are willing to invest in more and faster network connections. [1]
Agents play a strange role here. On one hand, they can help to reduce the waste of bandwidth (e.g. by performing searchers more efficiently), on the other hand they will increase the usage of bandwidth as the user-friendliness and convenience (e.g. efficiency, speed) they can offer, will attract more users and lead to an increased use of the Internet as an information tool. This latter development is likely to eclipse the former. However, agents cannot be blamed for that.

Probably within a year, safe payment methods will be available which make it possible to easily make many small payments [2]  on the Internet. This will strongly stimulate the demand for agents and agent-enabled applications, as performing information searches inefficiently, does not only cost you time but also money. Weighing the (value of) offered services and information of the numerous suppliers against the money that has to be paid for (retrieving) it, will be a task that is too complicated for humans to do all by themselves. Instead, in the medium term, they will farm out this task to agents. (See chapter four for more about this.)

Another medium term development may be a further rise of the number of Intranets. Intranets are well manageable (also financially), they are well suited for multi-media applications, can act as a gateway to the Internet, and are basically secure (compared to the rather insecure Internet). For the rest, they have all the good qualities of the Internet (e.g. openness, robustness).
Intranets enable Internet providers to offer more differentiated Internet services. For instance, they can then offer cheap, but slow(er) services to those who favour low prices over fast connections, and offer more expensive, but also faster and more elaborated services at higher rates. And they offer many large organisations and companies to means to connect their various offices and employees. [3]
Fortunately, agents can be active on both Intranets as on the Internet. And again, agents will then probably be needed to weigh which connections to use: cheaper and slower, or more expensive but faster ones. This can all depend on the nature and the urgency of the task that has to be performed, the time of the day it is performed on, etcetera. Soon, this may be expected to become a task that is too complicated for humans to do themselves.

[1] As long as most of the Internet services are free (largely due to the fact that there are not yet safe methods to make many small payments on the Internet - see next footnote), commercial parties will be very inclined to do so. Non-commercial parties (such as the various governments) do not have sufficient funds to fully meet the increased demand for bandwidth.
[2] In the near-future it is very likely that very small amounts of money will need to be paid for each page of information that is retrieved. The exact amount does not have to be more than a few cents, as information pages (especially popular ones) get retrieved so often, that only small charges will be sufficient to cover the costs that have to be made to put the information on-line.
To make this system work (i.e. interesting for Internet users), there should preferably be no, or virtually none (i.e. not more than a few cents), overhead costs per payment.

[3] It is predicted that Intranets will, within a few years, become much cheaper alternatives for expensive groupware packages such as Lotus Notes. Some even argue that "Internet technologies are much more relevant and exploitable within a local LAN [i.e. an Intranet], right now, than over much slower, dial-up access routes associated with typical home-access to the Internet" (from "The Intranet - a Corporate Revolution" by JSB Computer Systems Ltd).

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

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