Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 17:40:24 -0400
Sender: The Internet TourBus - A virtual tour of cyberspace
From: Bob Rankin
Subject: TOURBUS - 15 Jun 1999 - Bots and Intelligent Agents
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
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TODAY'S TOURBUS TOPIC: Bots and Intelligent Agents
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".
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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 chat groups) 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: Because that's where I dribble my tomato juice.
Eliza: Do any other reasons not come to mind?
Although Eliza is 33 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), Erin the
Bartender, or MegaHal. Visit them and 50 other chatterbots at
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 - Monitors search engines and notifies you by e-mail
when new pages appear on the web containing your keywords.
Reference.com - Searches for information in mailing lists and
Usenet newsgroups. Results are emailed to you daily.
iTrack - This auction tracking service will keep tabs on the major
online auctions, and notify you when the object you desire is
placed on the bidding block.
javElink - Lets you monitor a set of web pages. If the page
changes, you get an email with details.
NetMind - Lets you track any Web page at any level of detail. This
service has been around for several years and may provide features
not found in javElink.
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? Have a look at over 70 bots and intelligent
agents that are waiting to help you.
TheTrip.com - Get email notification of the lowest air fares to
AdHound - Search the classifieds of 100's of US newspapers daily.
Any relevant ads are e-mailed to you.
InfoBeat - News, Weather, Snow, Stocks, Sports, Entertainment.
Your own personalized news delivered daily via e-mail.
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.
Well, I gotta go... I hear Bob coming up the steps. --Bob's Bot
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