Intelligent Agents

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The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) has been around since the 1950s,[1] but only recently has the concept of intelligent agents begun to be considered. An evolved form of the cutting-edge AI of today, intelligent agents have the capacity to autonomously reason and use logic to work towards their own goals. [2] In literature, intelligent agents have the capacity to assist humans or, oppositely, to cause great harm.



AI, in its most basic form, has actually existed since the times of the Egyptians. Written around 3000 BC, a papyrus depicting 48 surgical representations for head wounds was prepared. It was written in such a way such that IF a patient had a certain injury, THEN he had this certain injury with a certain prognosis if a specific treatment was administered. [3] In 1951 Christopher Strachey created the first program to be considered artificial intelligence, and was and was a very basic intelligent agent. The program he wrote was designed to play checkers, and by 1952 he had it running fast enough on the Ferranti Mark I to play a complete game at a decent speed. [4] In modern times, intelligent agents are used from simple, household appliances (such as thermostats) to complex, grandmaster-defeating chess-playing programs.

Connection to Tropes

Machine vs. Human Labor

One of the reasons intelligent agents have been researched so extensively is in an attempt to make many human-performed tasks more manageable by shifting them to machine labor. As mentioned above, thermostats are some of the simplest programmed machines. Even so, however, they drastically help humanity every day by making difficult tasks more manageable. Complex intelligent agents are also used daily in a wide variety of applications. For example, Wall Street stock brokers rely on "intelligent" programs to make predictions about future stock patterns. Internet users are also constantly aided by intelligent agents in the form of Web search engines.

The Killer Cyborg

Although technology and AI has not yet advanced to such extreme levels, many authors and philosophers predict negative effects that intelligent agents will have on humanity in the future. The Killer Cyborg is one such machine that is able to reason and use logic to successfully complete its mission (which often times is the destruction of humanity). Intelligent agents are often the targets of such negative stories and predictions for there is much fear surrounding a machine that is able to reason. The main fear is that a machine could eventually realize that it has the capacity to become more powerful than humans and dominate or eliminate humanity (in The Terminator, the cyber-mainframe SkyNet becomes self-aware and wages war on humanity).

Connection to Readings (Spring 2010)


This is the perfect example of an intelligent agent acting autonomously to fulfill its individual agenda. In Robert Silverberg's Hardware, humans discover a strange machine that turns out to be a highly intelligent super-computer. This intelligent agent is able to hold complex conversations with humans and make decisions that influence its environment autonomously. One specific example of the computer doing this is when the scientists attempted to turn off the computer by turning off the lights in the room.[5] The computer was able to reason that it needed light and therefore turned the lights on in order to ensure the continuation of its existence.

Connection to Readings (Spring 2011)


Neuromancer contains many possible topics, but at its core, it is about AI. Wintermute and Neuromancer are AI that are very powerful, especially when they join together. They are made limited, but Wintermute has a strong desire to become whole. To that end, it is willing to manipulate and kill humans. Once joined together, this new and complete Construct lacks a dinstinct purpose, simply experimenting with its newfound power.

The Winter Market & Flesh Made Word

Both of these stories contain the idea of downloading a person to create an AI. Questions about whether or not the AI and original human are the same person or not are easily drawn. In Flesh Made Word, the idea that these new programs aren't people is supported. In The Winter Market, the question stated is directly asked by one of the characters, but the focus of the story is clearly elsewhere. At least, the question isn't directly answered. These stories support the idea that Intelligent Agents are largely based on humans, and so have themes about the humanity of these beings.

He, She, and It

He, She, and It has an AI central to its plot. Yod is a better example on the differences and similarities between humans and Robots/Cyborgs. The most significant differences are that Yod is given a physical body that is extremely similar to a human body, and that Yod is based off of humans, but isn't a copy of one.


  1. The History of Artificial Intelligence. (1997, June 21). Retrieved March 8th, 2010 from
  2. Franklin, S., & Graesser, A. (1996). Is it an Agent, or just a program?: a taxonomy for autonomous agents. Retrieved March 08, 2010 from
  3. Artificial Intelligence History. (2002). Retrieved March 08, 2010 from Stottler Henke from
  4. Artificial intelligence (AI). (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 08, 2010 from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
  5. Silverberg, R. (1987). Hardware [pp. 280]. Retrieved from
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