Intelligent agents help humans learn from computers
August 25, 1997
Web posted at: 11:30 p.m. EDT (0330 GMT)
From Correspondent Dick Wilson
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- In Los Angeles, the word "agent" can
mean one thing to Hollywood starlets, and quite another to
the computer industry elsewhere in the same city.
Intelligent agents are the leading edge of computer research
at the Information Sciences Institute, a part of the
University of Southern California.
The agents are very sophisticated computer programs that
mimic human thinking and actions. Take as an example an
agent that researchers have created to help train maintenance
workers on U.S. Navy vessels. His name is Steve.
On military ships, maintenance is a top priority -- you can't
just pull in for a pit stop when you're in the middle of the
Pacific. The faster maintenance workers can be trained, the
better for the ships in question.
Enter Steve, who, acting as a virtual teacher can take the
form of a human figure or a hand on a computer screen,
guiding students through a Navy training program.
Students wear virtual reality headsets and use a mouse to
interact with Steve. They can ask him questions. Or, they
can prompt him to demonstrate procedures for running the
virtual ship's engine room, from changing the oil to checking
alarm lights and testing the ship's temperature monitor.
The same principles of agents and artificial intelligence are
put to deadlier purposes in a virtual battlefield
demonstration. Blue helicopters hover in battle formation
behind a hill, out of sight of a column of tanks.
As the choppers jump above the horizon and fire missiles,
they knock out the tanks -- performing autonomously, USC
professor Paul Rosenbloom says. "They know what their
mission is and how to accomplish it."
There is nothing new, of course, about virtual war games. The
university's research, Rosenbloom says, shows potential for
systems that can learn from their own behavior, solve
problems and plan for the future.
And, ultimately, help humans learn from computers.