Maes defines interface agents as:
`[C]omputer programs that employ artificial intelligence techniques in order to provide assistance to a user dealing with a particular application. ... The metaphor is that of a personal assistant who is collaborating with the user in the same work environment.' [Maes, 1994b]There are many interface agent prototype applications: for example, the NEWT system is an USENET news filter, (along the lines mentioned in the second scenario that introduced this article) [Maes, 1994a]. A NEWT agent is trained trained by giving it a series of examples, illustrating articles that the user would and would not choose to read. The agent then begins to make suggestions to the user, and is given feedback on its suggestions. NEWT agents are not intended to remove human choice, but to represent an extension of the human's wishes: the aim is for the agent to be able to bring to the attention of the user articles of the type that the user has shown a consistent interest in. Similar ideas have been proposed by McGregor, who imagines prescient agents - intelligent administrative assistants, that predict our actions, and carry out routine or repetetive administrative procedures on our behalf [McGregor, 1992].
There is much related work being done by the computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) community. CSCW is informally defined by Baecker to be `computer assisted coordinated activity such as problem solving and communication carried out by a group of collaborating individuals' [Baecker, 1993]. The primary emphasis of CSCW is on the development of (hardware and) software tools to support collaborative human work - the term groupware has been coined to describe such tools. Various authors have proposed the use of agent technology in groupware. For example, in his participant systems proposal, Chang suggests systems in which humans collaborate with not only other humans, but also with artificial agents [Chang, 1987]. We refer the interested reader to the collection of papers edited by Baecker [Baecker, 1993] and the article by Greif [Greif, 1994] for more details on CSCW.