Academic journal article International Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management

The Potential of Intelligent Software Agents in the World Wide Web in Automating Part Procurement

Academic journal article International Journal of Purchasing and Materials Management

The Potential of Intelligent Software Agents in the World Wide Web in Automating Part Procurement

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The World Wide Web (WWW), the global computer network of information databases, has experienced phenomenal growth in both the amount of information available and the total number of users accessing that information.[1] It is rapidly becoming a powerful business tool because of its online commercial services and electronic commerce capabilities. The Web is poised to become the medium by which companies buy, trade, make contacts, exchange data and information, discuss designs, and locate components.[2,3] Information content providers can supply current information with minimum administrative overhead because the database, as a back-end or data source for Web applications, can offer high-speed search capabilities, and reliable data input and retrieval.[4] Both structured and unstructured data can be accessed, browsed, and retrieved. An increasing number of organizations are now taking advantage of the incredible range of information offered by this global network and, at the same time, are reaching out to Internet users who are potential clients or suppliers. One of the foundry industry's first home pages was launched in September 1995.[5] IndustryNet[6] is a Web-based online information gathering tool that establishes the link between buyers/specifiers, manufacturers, and distributors. With the advent of the WWW, and as more companies are becoming visible on the Web, the conventional mode of purchasing has changed radically as more and more components are procured electronically. Electronic purchasing on the WWW is facilitated by a branch of artificial intelligence known as intelligent software agents (ISAs).

Intelligent software agents (ISAs) are probably the fastest growing area of information technology. They are being used for applications as diverse as personalized information management, electronic commerce, computer games, and management of complex commercial and industrial processes. Although a rigorous, concrete definition of ISAs has not yet been agreed upon, they can be thought of as self-contained programs with decision-making abilities which act in pursuit of one or more objectives based on their perception of the environment.[7] ISAs are characterized by their autonomous completion of tasks delegated to them, in an environment that dynamically affects their problem-solving behaviors and strategies. Three distinct classes of agents can be identified.[8] At the simplest level, there are the gopher agents which execute straightforward tasks based on predetermined rules and assumptions (e.g., tell me when I need to re-order items). At the next level of sophistication, service-performing agents execute a well-defined task at the request of the user (e.g., find me the cheapest airfare from point A to point B). Finally, predictive agents volunteer information or services to a user without being explicitly directed, whenever it is deemed appropriate (e.g., an agent may monitor newsgroups on the Internet and return discussions that it believes would be of interest to the user). The work reported herein is confined to service-performing agents. Irrespective of the class, a typical ISA is expected to possess the following key characteristics:

* Autonomy: Agents should be able to perform the majority of their problem-solving tasks without the direct intervention of humans or other agents, while at the same time exercising a degree of control over their own actions and their own internal state.

* Social ability: Agents should be able to interact with, when they deem appropriate, other software agents and humans.

* Responsiveness: Agents should respond in a timely fashion to perceived changes in the environment, including changes in the physical world, other agents, or the Internet.

* Proactiveness: Apart from merely responding to the environment, agents should exhibit goal-directed behavior.

At a higher level, agents are also expected to perform other functions such as mobility, rationality, adaptivity, benevolence, and collaboration. …

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