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If you build it, they will come
Once an infrastructure of mobile agent hosts is established, mobile agents undoubtedly will be built to populate the infrastructure. But what will those mobile agents do? What will justify building the infrastructure in the first place?
Imagine for a moment that a widespread infrastructure of mobile agent hosts has been established on a network near you. How might you use it?
There are many applications for which mobile agents are claimed to be well-suited. Most of these applications tend to involve searching for information on behalf of a user and possibly performing some kind of transaction when appropriate information is encountered.
Here is a list of some of the more commonly mentioned applications for mobile agents:
An example of this kind of application is a network backup tool that periodically must look at every disk attached to every computer hooked to a network. Here, a mobile agent could roam the network, collecting information about the backup status of each disk. It could then return to its point of origin and make a report.
Searching and filtering exhibits an attribute common to many potential applications of mobile agents: knowledge of user preferences. Although mobile agents do not have to be "representative" or "intelligent," they often are. Here, an agent is given knowledge of user preferences in terms of a search criterion and an itinerary, and sent out into the network on the user's behalf. It sifts through huge amounts of data for those pieces of information of particular interest to the user. At some point, it returns to the user to report its findings.
For example, an agent could go to a stock market host, wait for a certain stock to hit a certain price, then buy some of it on behalf of its user. Another example is personalized news gathering. An agent could monitor various sources of news for particular kinds of information of interest to its user, then report back when relevant information becomes available.
This kind of application highlights the asynchronous nature of mobile agents. If you send out an agent, you needn't sit and wait for the results of its information gathering. You can program an agent to wait as long as it takes for certain information to become available. Also, you needn't stay connected to the network until an agent returns. An agent can wait until you reconnect to the network before making its report to you.
In this case, each agent contains information about its user's schedule. To agree upon a meeting time, the agents exchange information.
Electronic commerce also can take place between agents. For example, there could be an agent host dedicated to the buying and selling of automobiles. If you wanted to buy a car, you could give an agent knowledge of your preferences, including a price range and potentially a negotiation strategy. You would send your agent to the dedicated host, where it would mingle and haggle with agents seeking to sell a car.
If a potential match were found, your agent could report back to you, and you could contact each other in person to make the final arrangements. Alternatively, your agent potentially could consummate the deal on your behalf. If the opportunity is a good one, your agent may have only a few microseconds to act before someone else's agent buys the car.