Remember back when you were a kid, watching The Jetsons and wishing
someone would invent a robot to do your chores? Decades later, I
still haven't realized the promise of a machine to run the vacuum or
clear the dishes off the table, but nowadays there ARE some useful
robots roaming the Internet, ready to help you with shopping,
information gathering and other tasks.
In this issue of TOURBUS, we'll talk about these things called "bots".
But first a word from the sponsors who made today's trip possible...
WHAT'S A BOT?
The word is derived from "robot", and refers to a computer program
that gathers information or performs a service, usually on some
regular schedule. A bot (sometimes called an agent) typically
searches the Internet, gathers information relevant to your interests,
and presents it to you on a daily or other periodic basis.
Bots gained notoriety on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) where they served
such functions as greeting new participants, monitoring the use of
offensive language, and sometimes being downright annoying. Today
they retrieve information, and respond to events on Usenet, the Web
and other corners of cyberspace. While some bots silently roam the
net at your bidding, others are interactive, such as chatterbots - the
kind of bot you can talk to.
The first bot, Eliza, was created in 1966 by Professor Joseph
Weizenbaum of MIT, to study natural language communication between man
and machine. Eliza parodies a therapist by answering questions with
questions. Here's a conversation I had with Eliza:
Me: Hi there. I've got a few questions to ask...
Eliza: Please go on.
Me: Well, I think I have a drinking problem.
Eliza: But you are not sure you have a drinking problem?
Me: I'm sure. All my shirts are stained in front.
Eliza: Why do you say your shirts are stained in front?
Me: The dry cleaning bills are really getting out of hand.
Eliza: Would you like it if they were not getting out of hand?
Although Eliza is 36 years old, you can still try it out at
ALICE (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) is a more
sophisticated program that creates the illusion of natural
conversation. ALICE can even tell lies, spread gossip, and is credited
with influencing several real world happenings. Try this one at
There are lots more interesting chatterbots, like BRIAN (a computer
program that thinks it is an 18 year old college student), the John
Lennon bot or Mr. Mind (you have to convince him you're human). Visit
them and many other chatterbots at
There are chatterbots that speak various languages (some can even
LEARN new languages) and bots that you can invite into a chat room.
Do you find yourself running the same search engine query on a regular
basis? Let a bot take over. Are you tired of scanning the
classifieds or shopping sites in search of the best deal? Send a bot
to do your shopping. Here are some bots that do useful things for
TracerLock offers free monitoring of search engines, stock market
info, newsgroups, classifieds, auctions, employment sites, and
personal ads. It emails you when it has found new matches for your
MindIt - Monitor any Web page for specific changes and receive
alerts on these changes via email, mobile phone or pager.
RememberIt - This service will help you remember important dates
such as birthdays, anniversaries, or whatever. You get an email to
remind you of the event on the date you specify.
EYES - Helps you find recently published books on a certain topic.
Shopping Bots - Wanna find the lowest price without visiting dozens
of shopping sites? Check out dozens of bots and intelligent
agents that are waiting to help you.
InfoBeat - News, Weather, Snow, Stocks, Sports, Entertainment.
Your own personalized news delivered daily via e-mail.
InternetSeer remotely monitors your Web site and will send you
an email message alerting you when your site is down.
LEARN MORE ABOUT BOTS
BotSpot is the place to go if you want to find bots or learn more.
They classify bots and intelligent agents by subject, with reviews and
historical perspectives. Maybe you'll find a bot to automate some
online activity that you do by hand today.