(How) Can Software Agents Become Good Net Citizens?by Sabine Helmers, Ute Hoffmann, and Jillian Stamos-Kaschke
In virtual worlds, human-generated information transactions are not unique. Also residing in these worlds are actors known as "software agents," such as "bots," "news agents," and "spiders." These actors can communicate with both humans and machines even though they are not made of flesh and bone (1). These programs-turned-actors carry out certain jobs, such as searching the WWW arranging meetings or compiling music recommendations, more or less anonymously and act on behalf of a single user or an organization. Because of their communicative role, and because they reside on the Internet, they too can be considered "Netizens" for the following reasons:
These principles provide a valuable framework for searching for ways of dealing with some of the more mundane issues and concerns about agent behavior. But even so, these behavioral rules must interface with technical issues that may hinder these actors ability to effectively perform their duties. Consider that the more tasks delegated to agents, the greater the risk of useful helpers becoming unpleasant pests as they try to perform these tasks. The supposedly helpful servants can severely impair general network traffic when there is too much data exchanged, as is the case with programs that reproduce in a virus-like manner. Thus, these agents can inadvertently become a nuisance to other users.
The shared life and work of human and non-human actors in the world of networks has opened up a new policy domain in cyberspace. It remains to be seen whether or not the Internet community will be able to devise self-generated, sustainable solutions to the problems stemming from malbehaved agents, agent misuse and abuse.
Sabine Helmers (email@example.com) is a cultural anthropologist at the Social Science Research Center Berlin. Her current field of study is the Internet and Unix techno-culture.
Ute Hoffmann (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sociologist at the Social Science Research Center Berlin. She became involved in the social study of technology through her dissertation on gender and computing. She is currently researching the evolution of Usenet administration and technology.
Jillian Stamos-Kaschke (email@example.com) is a student of modern languages at the Free University of Berlin and works as an academic assistant at the Social Science Research Center. She is planning an M.A. thesis on the subject of the correlation between software agents and human language.
Sabine, Ute and Jillian are members of the Projektgruppe Kulturraum Internet.
Copyright © 1997 by Sabine Helmers, Ute Hoffmann, and Jillian Stamos-Kaschke. All Rights Reserved.