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Computer 'agents' Take to the Web


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Artificial intelligence agents that automatically negotiate for online shoppers, called Negotiation Ninjas, will be tested on a shopping Web site called Aroxo this fall. The agents are the result of 20 years of work by researchers at Southampton University.

"Computer agents don't get bored, they have a lot of time, and they don't get embarrassed," says Southampton professor Nick Jennings, one of the researchers behind the work.

The agents use a set of rules called heuristics to find the optimal price for both buyer and seller based on information both parties provide. "We use heuristics to determine what price we should offer during the negotiation--and also how we might deal with multiple negotiations at the same time," Jennings says. "We have to factor in some degrees of uncertainty as well, the chances are that sellers will enter into more negotiations than they have stock."

To use an intelligent agent, sellers must answer several questions on how much of a discount they are willing to offer and whether they can go lower after a certain number of sales. Buyers enter the item they wish to purchase and the price they are willing to pay. The agents then act as an intermediary and search the lists of sellers who are willing to accept a price in the region offered. If a match is found, the seller is prompted to automatically reply with a personalized offer. The buyer can then accept, reject, or negotiate, in which case the agent analyzes the seller's criteria to see if they can make a better offer.

Aroxo will test the Negotiation Ninjas this fall, and plans to have the system fully operational by Christmas.

From BBC News
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