From:         Bob Rankin 
Subject:      TOURBUS - 20 Mar 03 - Bots and Intelligent Agents


The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved

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...


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 you.

TracerLock offers 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 search terms. (30-day free trial)

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 - Stay current with the latest releases of your favorite authors, artists and actors. Be the first to know when a book, CD, or video hits our shelves? Amazon Alerts will send you an e-mail when a new item you're interested in gets released.

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.


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.

Well, I gotta go... I hear Bob coming down the hall. --Bob's Bot

The Internet Tourbus - U.S. Library of Congress ISSN #1094-2239
Copyright © Bob Rankin and Patrick Crispen - All rights reserved
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