'User agent' is a great idea that has been weirdly perverted.
Nobody these days (even highly technical people) has a user agent. (Maybe @drwho does.)
A user agent is a piece of software controlled by the *user*, that performs the automatic tasks the *user* has instructed it to. It communicates with other user agents, automatically, on the user's behalf.
Today, the term 'user agent' means 'long, misleading browser-lineage-identification string'. It identifies one of ~3 corporations.
Imagine if we actually *had* user agents.
Like, imagine if our computers were doing things we wanted them to do, automatically, on the network. And, it was our computers doing these things, instead of a rental service like ifttt or google alerts that's selling info on the back end. Imagine if they stopped doing things when we told them to stop.
Imagine if non-technical users had this too.
@natecull @enkiv2 i've never really found the "software agents" line of thinking very compelling, or at least it hasn't been very compellingly _presented_. it always felt like hype in much the way that VR or that weird brief period when XML was going to save the world did.
on the other hand, if the idea is just that people should own and control computers which do things with their data in their interests, well, that sure does sound like a pleasant contrast to the status quo.
The idea of 'app', which now seems to mean 'startup', seems to have entirely replaced the idea of 'agent' in modern Silicon Valley.
like I don't think a younger me could have imagined that some day people would say 'app' to literally mean 'a service company run by a few people (in another country even) making millions of dollars and outsourcing the actual service jobs to casual/temp piecework not-even-employees at Dickensian below-market exploitation rates' and also think it is still a meaningful word meaning 'a program on my computer' and yet
(points at Uber, etc)
@brennen I can say that even the term "software agent" sounds sort of dull, uninterestingly hands-off, and like something the average person wouldn't think they needed or was qualified to mess with.
Exactly the opposite of the hands-on, approachable, and self-ownership feel that future tech stuff needs to have.
Well, on the one hand, part of the 'software agent' fuss was sort of linked with, um, personal organizers, early handhelds, the idea of an 'electronic butler/secretary' and so there WAS quite a bit of that 'hands-on, approachable' hype about it? You'd have a personal 'Agent' who would be a sort of pseudo-personality in your computer?
But then the other side of the 'software agents' thing was... mobile code, that you'd transmit? I guess 'cloud server' ate that?
and then the success of the 'search enginet' model, and Google with it, sort of led to the idea of the 'agent' being a personalised service provided by Extremely Large Corporations rather than an actual thing you'd own and control
so the 'agent' got replaced by the idea of 'portal', then 'portal' as a buzzword got replaced by 'app' after the iPhone got big and mobile became the interface to the same Extremely Large Corporation pretending to be your tiny friend
so now we get companies like Trivago advertising comparison services on TV, and the company-service-slash-app-slash-website-slash-portal-slash-agent they provide is essentially the same idea as those 1990s 'shopping agent' concepts? At least that's what they claim. But how do you know they're not messing you around? they almost certainly are or how would they make money?
@natecull You're nailing it here.
I think people need to take a look at how much sunshine they let be blown up their butts too, though. Being sold "experiences" and "services" (that turned out to be data-mining ventures) was presented as more aspirational than owning or doing anything for yourself, and people went with it.
Average users have been sold a sort of all-or-nothing mentality -- either be a super-hacker, or sit back and accept whatever you're shown, by the app or the site or your OS, etc.
There are already other options, and I think people are increasingly hungry for them.
I think something that's seriously underused in this context is planners.
Like, no voice assistant understands "I want to do <x> in such a way that <y> but not <z>" but that's something we've known how to implement since the 70s.
A conversational interface to a planner (in order to identify ambiguous situations & clarify them) that then controls what amounts to shell scripts -- that's UI heaven.
I am enjoying playing with Node.js more and more and I wonder if that can be the foundation for agent-like tools.
Mostly because it's mainstream enough to get lots of support, can run as a server, and it's reflective/lightweight/dynamic enough to be able to implement all sorts of AI techniques, up to and including brute-force reimplementation of Lisp.
compared to say, Racket, which I just can't get into, and Python, which I can't get past the whitespace stuff (plays major havoc with my copy/paste to the REPL style)
@drwho Very true. I've been a victim of feeling intimidated by the tech world for a long time, so I can relate to this. Nothing sucks worse for the average user than some smart person going, "It's easy! You just have to (unintelligible) the (incomprehensible)! An idiot could do it!"
@enkiv2 @natecull @brennen
"and OBVOUSLY don't touch the blue and red wires, I mean every fool knows THAT, it'll explode and burn down your house"
"uh, ok, so, could you make a version without the red wires then"
"hell no! better let lots of houses burn down! it keeps the idiots out! heh heh heh!"
Exactly! And not to get too on the nose, but it's linked to the lack of diversity in tech, and the awful rates of accessibility for a lot of people who even ARE interested in helping out and contributing. There are very strict on-ramps to this exploration right now, and that sucks. It's a big part of what open-source and automation should address.
@drwho @enkiv2 @brennen
@erosdiscordia @natecull @enkiv2 @brennen Indeed. They say they want different points of view, but when they get them, they promptly ignore them. A lot of F/OSS projects are the same way. A lot of F/OSS projects that deliberately seek diversity (and I'll toot my own vuvuzula here) are having a hell of a time getting any help.
Also, UI/UX is really hard.
@drwho There is so much to learn, in the free moments I have between trying to get a survival job. Sometimes I have to take deep breaths and try not to get pissed about how deliberately I got steered away from tech stuff and slapped down for my interest in it. It just makes me more determined to figure out my place in it, though.
It is amazing the fuss I have sometimes just *changing the volume of the speaker*, with multiple apps conflicting, the OS being slow to respond, to the point that having a *physical plug in a physical socket* is more reliable.
until we can fix stuff like this, we don't have much chance in heck getting much more complex agents than 'audio volume' to communicate in ways that give the user satisfaction.
@drwho I'm actually revisiting this (very good) point in light of current science fiction trends, and the need I see for SFF to explore something besides dystopia / authoritarian /hierarchical grimdark narratives. I think that shift has already begun, and I wonder how it might link up to some of these tech angles.
@natecull @brennen @enkiv2
I think they really are all user agents, because user agent is a term not specific to function.
Anything that is automated but also controlled by a non-technical end user is a user agent.
So the promise is that you can *use* a team of interacting user agents, and each one of them would do a different specific thing, in response perhaps to a user agent whose job was coordinating plans with the user.
Something that got lost in translation is that user agents should be communicating with each other. I think if we had a "user agent communication standard", even if we just renamed jabber, it would be less of an issue.
Download a new user agent from 'inhuman resources' or 'central casting' to do a particular job & it checks in with your assistant agent to plug into your planner system, whatever.
@enkiv2 @natecull @erosdiscordia @brennen This is wrong, historically speaking. AFAIK the origin of the term "user agent" is in email; it's in e.g. https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1341 from 1992. Also in POP3 https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1081 from 1988. In hat context there was definitely not the idea that one user would usually have several agents or that the agents would talk to each other directly. In 1982 RFC 822 doesn't say "user agent" and uses "agent" in an incompatible way.
I'll take a look, but I've got a sneaking suspicion that the idea of a user agent is about as old as the idea of the filter bubble (the 'Daily Me' proposed at Negroponte's lab in the late 70s) or the Internet of Things ('Ubiquitous Computing' at PARC around 1979).
Person *or* program.
<< The Sender mailbox specification includes a word sequence which must correspond to a specific agent (i.e., a human user or a computer program) rather than a standard address. ... For example in the case of a shared login name, the name, by itself, would not be adequate. >>
Wikipedia is claiming that the concept of the software agent has its origin in the actor model (so, early 1970s). This makes sense: 'agent' and 'actor' share etymology, & 'agent' is a less misleading way to express 'one who performs actions' -- particularly 'one who acts on behalf of another'.
Actor model has, inside it, the assumption that agents communicate with other agents.
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