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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Editorial Pointers


This month, two special sections explore how software agents independently and through their interaction in multiagent systems are transforming the Internet's already tumultuous character and mission. Functioning through the medium of autonomous actions, agents and agent systems move out into the Net's distributed, large-scale, dynamic structure on behalf of often-anonymous servers and human users scattered around the world or around the corner. Their purpose: create open, flexible, scalable solutions—on the fly—especially for such emerging applications as e-commerce, virtual enterprises, scientific computing, intelligent manufacturing, home automation, component-based software construction, and power distribution management.

The first section, guest edited by Anupam Joshi and Munindar P. Singh of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and North Carolina State University, respectively, cover agent building and use in Asian, European, and U.S. projects. The resulting pieces involve agents as links in an electric power grid creating networked smart homes; as links between researchers in networked scientific computing; as socialware supporting virtual communities; as a way of making business and manufacturing processes coherent—a big step beyond interoperability; as surrogates interacting directly with people; as searchers and fetchers in the Lycos search engine; and as virtual shoppers and merchants mimicking commercial markets.

The second section moves the agent idea into the burgeoning business realm of e-commerce where they represent enormous moneymaking potential. Agents and the business performance they deliver will be involved in up to $327 billion worth of Net-based commerce in five years, up from $14 billion in 1997, according to Forrester Research. Not surprisingly, an agent-development industry has sprung up to supply agents and associated technology to online brokerages, auction houses, catalogs, and others for whom agents are already an intrinsic part of the business plan. The agents automatically buy and sell merchandise, negotiate contracts, and interact with remote human customers—all in the best self-interests of their developers, owners, and users. Using Java to launch themselves and move freely on the Net, they hook up through the extensible markup language to make an agreeable commercial environment. But beware: Not all e-commerce applications can share their information.

Andrew Rosenbloom, Senior Editor

COMING NEXT MONTH: Special commentary on the promise and pleasures of free software from key players in the open-source movement. Also a special section on evolvable hardware. And articles on how merchants can win back lost consumer trust online in the interests of e-commerce sales; geographic addressing, routing, and resource discovery through the global positioning system; and a top-management toolbox for managing corporate IT.


©1999 ACM  0002-0782/99/0300  $5.00

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