From Farenheit 451 to Intelligent Agents

What do you think, Linda?

If Linda thinks it’s all right, it must be.

Do you have the answer, Linda?




Linda, you’re right, you’re absolutely fantastic.

A look at yesterday…

Remember Farenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury in 1953, or the movie by the same title starring Julie Christie? The main character Montag has a wife that gets most of her reality out of her wall-screen TV.  Bradbury is giving us his predictive modeling on one aspect of Intelligent Agents (IA) before such existed. The movie shows us interactive TV where the actor states issues or problems, pauses, and turns to Linda (Julie Christie) to ask for her advice.  Her TV will flash a red light (shown above) while it beeps and the actor turns towards her to let her know they are waiting for her valued input.  What the movie was getting at is a type of interactive TV that would pull the viewer in completely.  Bradbury was concentrating on psychological aspects relating to mind control and a zombie like existence. The technological application of Intelligent Agents was not born yet. I’m not disagreeing with the message Bradbury presents, but he leaves off where all of the benefits of IA begins.

A look at today…

Los Angeles is looking into immersive interactive film making which will bring about virtual reality on demand.  It will get into more abilities than Bradbury had foreseen with abilities like being able to look around more than the camera would normally have provided.  We will be able to control where we look to some degree with a mouse, keyboard, or controller, for example.   There will be clickable content that can take us into the lives, history, or background of characters, or perhaps deeper into a scene when we want it to.  This is what I’m seeing anyways as coming on the horizon with the help of intelligent agents.  Pretty cool, and thanks to Ray Bradbury for giving us some early vision!

Last week I talked about the progression from Data to Information. This week I’m focusing on progression from Information to Intelligent Agents. A very basic definition of an intelligent agent would be a program that gets information or does an automatic scheduled service.  Here are some more advanced definitions:

“An intelligent agent is a software system that can send information to and receive it from other agents using appropriate protocols (sensing and communication).  Such intelligent agents learn multiple objectives, create action plans, process the information received, and perform reasoning through AI techniques.  To manage activities, an agent has a controller function. The controller manages the agent’s interaction with the environment and selects the task to be performed according to the agent’s goals and capabilities” (Akerkar & Sajja, 2009).    What is described here is a system where agents can carry out a process on information as well as dealing with objectives and plans, much of which can become dynamic and automated.

Another higher level definition is found here: “Intelligent agent is an abstract noun that can represent all intelligent entities whether they are of natural intelligence or artificial intelligence. It is therefore used to describe a wide range of entities, such as human beings, robots, intelligent devices, and intelligent software.  In a certain environment an intelligent agent can sense the environment through sensors and affect the environment through effectors” (Zhou, Wang, & Lou, 2010). This gives us the sense that we are talking both hardware and software solutions.  There is a wide variety of intelligent agent application. 

Intelligent Agents are used in a large variety of application areas, and one very successful one is in e-commerce.  “The internet has experienced a rapid shift from information and entertainment to electronic commerce.  The amount of information available on the web, as well as the number of e-businesses and web shoppers has been growing exponentially and the influx is difficult to process.  Intelligent agents empower both buyers and sellers to accomplish e-commerce transactions by enabling efficient, precise, and comprehensive searches on the vast web community and information repository.  By operating in the background in lieu of user intervention, intelligent agents also circumvent problems related to slow internet access and free up prohibitively expensive surf and data mining time” (Sinmao, 1999).   So we are seeing a strong trend towards utilization of IAs with e-commerce.  The advantages of remembering (learning) a user’s transactions, shopping cart, and even wish lists, is powerful for making the shopping experience a friendly efficient one.

If we take a look back about a decade ago, some views on IA were a bit progressive to say the least.  I thought this was kind of like reading George Orwell or the like, where we may need to wait a bit longer for some things to evolve.   We were making great strides ten years ago but not quite as fast as what CNET News portrayed as occurring “within a year or two”:  “Whether by voice…or by typing, I think agents are going to be helping more people use the Internet,” said Ted Kunzog, analyst and editor for Internet Stock News. “Within a year or two you will not need to use a computer to use the Internet. Instead people will be speaking into a phone or a wristwatch, and some little software product will bring back what they’re looking for. That’s the promise of agents” (Festa, 1999).  The timing may not be exact but we are indeed starting to get here!

A look at the future…

Looking into the future is always difficult to predict and often not quite what we anticipate.  We can, however, safely say that ES, ANN, IA, and all the technological means to automate, learn, and advance our processes will continue.   “Our future work will look at the exploration of how new technological paradigms will affect the perceived quality of experience in pervasive interactive multimedia systems. These paradigms include hybrid artifacts, use of biotechnology, advanced interaction modalities, new forms of content and novel intelligent environments, immersive environments such as collaborative virtual environments and multi-user environments.”  (Lumsden, 2008)

If you research the phrase “advanced interaction modalities” you will likely find advanced research going on in usability and interface design. One very positive example is CURE, the Center for Usability Research & Engineering. The ways in which this kind of work and research can help in the future is practically unlimited and full of potential. CURE is a leading European organization in usability engineering that is making inroads into this field of technology: “We study users to gain deep insight in how users can interact with advanced interaction spaces covering 3D spaces, augmented reality, mixed realities and virtual reality with careful consideration of the context of use. Advanced interaction techniques incorporating intelligent agents, information visualization (e.g. focus and context) and multimodal aspects are investigated. Interaction with ubiquitous and pervasive systems as well as ambient intelligence in the office and the home domain are a research priority that deals with the disappearing user interface.” (Cure)

Today’s topic briefly touched the surface of multimedia IA. I will return in later weeks to other IA issues that will show the positive forces of change that can make a difference in our world. Multimedia IA is not limited to the psychological vision of science fiction authors, and is certainly showing vast potential for good. As with all advancements, resulting positive or negative impact is influenced by humanity.


Akerkar, R., & Sajja, P. (2009). Knowledge-Based Systems. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers .


Festa, P. (1999, October 28). Intelligent Agent technology staging a comeback . Retrieved June 29, 2011, from CNET News:

Lumsden, J. (2008). Handbook of Research on User Interface Design and Evaluation for Mobile Technology. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Sinmao, M. (1999, November 24). Intelligent Agents & E-Commerce. Retrieved June 29, 2011, from CIS.UDEL.EDU:

Zhou, Z., Wang, H., & Lou, P. (2010). Manufacturing Intelligence for Industrial Engineering. Hershey, PA: IGI Global .


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