Agent Culture: Human-Agent Interaction in a Multicultural World

By Sabine Payr; Robert Trappl | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
1

The Agents of McDonaldization

Phoebe Sengers

Cornell University

I used to build agents. In the old days, I built interactive computer characters, or animated creatures with idiosyncratic personality, who can express that personality in interaction with human users. To do so I used a programming framework that focused on expressing the agent author's vision of personality through an ad hoc and flexible organization of complex, hand-written behaviors (Loyall & Bates, 1991). This approach excited me because of its openness: It did not impose a rigid theory or structure on the personalities that could be expressed. This minimum-commitment model made possible the creation of arbitrarily complex and idiosyncratic personality. In this approach, agent design was thought of as craftwork: Authors could manipulate the materials of electronic code to express their unique personal vision of personality and life.

One evening I had a horrible nightmare. In my dream, 10 years had passed. I had graduated and the field of agents with personality had boomed. In this brave new world, I had found a job at a large fast-food corporation, working on the software assembly line building intelligent, franchised characters to be packaged with Happy Meals. My dream of intelligent characters who represented the full breadth, beauty, and complexity of life had been reduced to Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar. I woke with a shudder. As dawn broke, I laughed at my imagination, went back to sleep, and forgot about the dream.

Fast forward 10 years. Agent-building has, in fact, exploded. My research group at the time has formed a start-up company, Zoesis, whose current

-3-

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