The virtual worlds of cyberspace are populated by electronic beings that are essential to the real-time functioning of society. The most widespread of these are intelligent agents living in symbiosis with human beings. Agents are expert programs that have three characteristics. First of all, their programming is object-oriented, which gives them a great deal of flexibility to adapt to the missions assigned them. Second, they are extremely mobile in the networks, because they know all the connection and interface procedures. Third, they are parameterable, and can be given any form or style desired. Agents practice a variety of occupations; there are communications agents managing text and audiovisual electronic messaging, secretaries, librarians, consultants on purchasing or selling goods and services, managers of stock portfolios, clerks, messengers, and security officers. Like their "cousins," computer viruses, they move easily through the networks and mutate, recombine, and form subpopulations. They are personalized by their employers, and they are involved in a great many types of transactions.
Let us look at how an intelligent agent faxes a document requested by a correspondent. A call comes in on the digital videophone server at someone's home or office. The face of the person being called appears on the correspondent's screen, and a greeting is played: "I'm not in at the moment. My agent will field your request." The face of the agent that manages messaging appears on the screen. A dialogue ensues concerning the document requested. The agent looks through the list of documents for which there is free access, identifies the document sought, and forwards it by fax or electronic transfer to the person making the request. If the request is particularly important or urgent, the agent informs its boss by portable telephone, pager, fax, or email, selecting the appropriate means.
Another example is simultaneous translation. A person carries a powerful, miniaturized computer, with connections by Hertzian modem to networked computers that are specialized in the syntactic and semantic recognition of oral phrases and expressions. A microphone picks up the voice of the person's interlocutor. An agent establishes a link with the appropriate translation systems. The interlocutor's words are translated in real time, and the translated version, adjusted in volume and speed by the agent, is heard through miniature speakers placed in the ear.