This document is Agents Memo 93-01 [Postscript], [PDF], available from the Agents Group, MIT Media Lab. Copyright (C) May 1993 by Leonard N. Foner. Permission to redistribute for academic purposes granted provided that this notice is not removed.

A version of this document also appears in The Proceedings of the First International Conference on Autonomous Agents (AA '97), and is available in Postscript or PDF. It has also been used as the basis for book chapters in Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet and Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace.

Vannevar Bush spoke of such a thing in the late fifties and early sixties, as did Doug Englebart.

A 'learning interface' agent, as opposed to any other kind of agent, is one that uses machine-learning techniques to present a pseudo-'intelligent' user interface in its actions.

An expensively-produced, ten-minute Apple promo video which talked about what agent technology might look like twenty years from now also named its 'agent' Phil, a suspicious similarity...

Section heading, 'How Agents Think and Learn', Mass High Tech, Volume 10, Number 23, November 2-15, 1992.

A reference to a multinational corporation from William Gibson's book Neuromancer.

TinyMUD is a type of mud, a specific type of more than a dozen different types of muds. Muds in general are a type of multiperson text-based virtual reality. For more information about muds, see, for example, Pavel Curtis, 'Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities', Proceedings of DIAC '92, which is available via anonymous ftp from parcftp.xerox.com:pub/MOO/papers/DIAC92.{ps, txt}; or the MUD frequently-asked-questions list for the Usenet newsgroup rec.games.mud, available via anonymous ftp from moebius.math.okstate.edu:/pub/muds/misc/mud-faq.

I usually don't anthropomorphize programs, but Julia is an exception. I will have more to say about this later.

Michael Mauldin's nickname and mud handle.

Private communication.

For example, the robot Xeglin, running on Space Madness (<riemann.math.okstate.edu, port 6250>) is a slightly-modified version of Colin.

Since Julia runs on a workstation and telnets in as a normal character, multiple instantiations of the same code can run concurrently, each connecting to one particular mud.

A whisper is a private communication. The intended target hears it, but no one else in the room does.

This particular room is rather special to Julia: she can play Hearts, and will join a game if asked. This is one reason why she claimed to have received almost fifty thousand utterances in this room in her time in it.

This is mud jargon for overloading the server. This can happen via a program running on the server that monopolizes its resources in some way, or via a client that issues inhumanly too many commands too fast, as a program might.

A 'Delphi poll' is a technique for getting approximate information. It assumes that, even if no one actually knows the right answer to a question, some sort of average of all of their answers might be correct. This technique actually works, some of the time...

Were Julia written in Lisp and not C, she would have bignum arithmetic available, which can express arbitrarily large numbers exactly. Her inability to cons bigna was my first clue, before I obtained Colin's source code, that she was most likely written in C and not Lisp.

This is, after all, one of the reasons that human languages have pronouns. Even signed languages use this concept, by assigning spatial positions in the signers' visual fields and pointing to them, where speakers would use pronouns.

IRC, or 'Internet Relay Chat', is a sort of Internet equivalent of the 1970's CB-radio craze, though with important differences. For more details, see Elizabeth Reid, 'Electropolis: Communication and Community on Internet Relay Chat,' Bachelors thesis, University of Melbourne, 1991, which is available via anonymous ftp from freebie.engin.umich.edu:/pub/text/IRCThesis/electropolis{ps,text}.Z.

On Fuzzy's part, of course.

It is probably also a veiled reference to the large number of computers either blown up or disabled in the original Star Trek series, when deliberately asked to compute such computationally infinite quantities. One might contend that such computer systems were poorly designed, but that is beside the point.

If you page her with a message, she'll answer the message, but stay where she is.

As of this writing, Julia claims to be 3 years and 4 months old...

Julia occasionally makes up nicknames for people based on their character's name. I strongly suspect that the first three letters of the 'real' character's name (which Fuzzy changed to 'barry' in this transcript) were 'cuj'.

Note that even this bizarre response does not appear to have tipped Barry off...

Lucretia is left as an exercise, as is determining how it was that Xeglon put that comment there, being a 'bot and all.

My thanks to Leira for the referral.

One might consider that even a telephone interview is happening 'in cyberspace'-where are you when you're on the phone?-but most people consider the telephone to be by now too prosaic a piece of equipment to qualify for the name.

This is a thought balloon.

Nowhere but on the Lisp Machine have I seen a similar process be quite so easy, and even there the interface isn't in natural language.

Note that elthar, like many mudders, spells his name using lower case, so that is the case I use later.

No risk in a mud can be particularly great these days, since muds do not generally side-effect the 'real world' in any way-though this may change: JaysHouseMOO (<theory.cs.mankato.msus.edu, port 1709>) is doing considerable work on systems that allow MOOers to interact with the information resources of the Internet, as are certain other muds). And even a player who is badly lost and steps into the wrong room can usually recover in some fashion. The 'risks' are greatest in RPG muds, where one might potentially lose a character, and here one generally doesn't trust 'bots more than one might trust a monster or a stranger.

In 'Let Your Agents Do The Walking' (Steven Levy, MacWorld, May 1993, p. 42), Levy describes using 'Magnet' for a simple file identification and movement task. When he specified the 'wrong' directory in which to put the results (by improperly capitalizing it, despite the fact that Macintosh filesystems are specified as being case-insensitive for lookup), the 'agent' silently threw everything it found in the trash!

Modern industrial society has largely replaced physical (human) slavery with machines, be they constructed out of inorganic matter or bred as domestic animals. Mental tasks with a large 'cognitive' component are the last bastion where human-level performance is often needed, but is unobtainable without actual humans to do it.

Lenny Foner