Intelligent agent makes Internet research simple

Try asking an Internet search engine 'Who is the band from Liverpool?' and you might get 1140 documents that mention 'Who', 445 documents that mention 'Band' and 754 documents that mention 'Liverpool'.

Try asking an Internet search engine "Who is the band from Liverpool?" and you might get 1140 documents that mention "Who", 445 documents that mention "Band" and 754 documents that mention "Liverpool". And when you have read the 2339 documents you may figure out that the most famous band from Liverpool is the Beatles.

A British artificial intelligence company has created a program that not only understands such a natural-language query, but comes back with documents mentioning the Beatles within a couple of minutes.

Autonomy Software Systems began beta testing its AutoNomy Intelligent Agent program (available on last week. The product uses pattern analysis to mine vast amounts of information on the Internet and can be activated by a natural-language query. It is based on a technology called the Dynamic Reasoning Engine (DRE), which was developed for the British Police and Intelligence community by Autonomy's parent company, Cambridge Neurodynamics (CN), for pattern recognition and finger-print analysis.

However, last month Autonomy Software Systems was launched as a separate company, valued at £30 million. AutoNomy Intelligent Agent, priced at £100, will be launched in September and will be targeted at home users. The package will include a Press Agent feature that will compile a daily newspaper based on user criteria.

A Mail Agent feature reads the contents of the user's e-mail and prioritizes important messages, while a Guardian Agent screens out information that the user deems offensive or irrelevant. An Intelligent Agent feature can be used for general data retrieval. AutoNomy's real strength is the ability to use pattern recognition techniques to filter vast amounts of data in order to retrieve useful information. The product's usefulness is that it learns as it goes, officials say.

In any one search the agent will screen about 1000 documents in about 10 minutes, selecting the most relevant documents for the user. Based on which documents the user indicates to be valuable, it can then be relaunched to perform a more refined search. "This difference between us and other intelligent agent companies is that this is available now," says Mike Lynch, managing director of Autonomy in Cambridge, England.

"We are not announcing intentions or vapourware and if you can write in English then you can use AutoNomy. You don't have to be a C++ programmer," he says. Autonomy also offers AgentWorld, an Internet service hosted by the company. Through the AgentWorld service, agents can exchange information. For instance, users requiring information on a particular topic can send agents to AgentWorld to see if anybody else has an agent trained on that topic.

"The idea for AgentWorld came from our Alpha testing program," says Michael Woodley, technical manager of Autonomy. "We found that the alpha testers were exchanging agents so we decided to launch the service," he says. AgentWorld will also help the user with leisure-time activities by offering a dating center. Users can train their agents to find a partner by giving the agents information on themselves as well as their interests.

Autonomy Software Systems can be contacted on the Web at

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