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Human-Agent Collectives

Human-Agent Collectives, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

The computer has come a long way from its initial role as a scientific tool in the research lab. We live in a world where a host of computer systems, distributed throughout our physical and information environments, are increasingly implicated in our everyday actions. Computer technologies impact all aspects of our lives and our relationship with the digital has fundamentally altered as computers have moved out of the workplace and away from the desktop. Networked computers, tablets, phones and personal devices are now commonplace, as are an increasingly diverse set of digital devices built into the world around us. Data and information is generated at unprecedented speeds and volumes from an increasingly diverse range of sources and via ever more sensor types. It is then combined in unforeseen ways, limited only by human imagination. People's activities and collaborations are becoming ever more dependent upon and intertwined with this ubiquitous information substrate.

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As these trends continue apace, it is becoming apparent that many endeavors involve the symbiotic interleaving of humans and computers. Moreover, the emergence of these close-knit partnerships is inducing profound change. The ability of computer systems to sense and respond to our ongoing activities in the real world is transforming our daily lives and shaping the emergence of a new digital society for the 21st century. More specifically, rather than issuing instructions to passive machines that wait until they are asked before doing anything, we are now starting to work in tandem with highly interconnected computational components that act autonomously and intelligently (aka agents42). This shift is needed to cope with the volume, variety, and pace of the information and services that are available.


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