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What are AI Agents?

By Pierson Marks

An AI agent is an autonomous program that can make decisions, carry out tasks, or achieve specific goals without human intervention. Agents perceive their environment similarly to how a human would, enabling them to make human-level decisions and perform actions at the speed and efficiency of software.

They're essentially digital assistants that can learn and adapt based on the information they gathers. They're adaptive, taking in a high-level goal and iteratively work towards that goal until the desired outcome is achieved.

Types of Agents

An agent's capabilities can be extremely sophisticated, using tools such as internet search, computer vision, and long-term memory, to consistently improve and work towards one or more goals.

Here are some types of agents, ordered by increasing complexity:

  1. Simple Reflex Agents: These agents react to changes in their environment directly. A simple example is a thermostat that adjusts room temperature by sensing changes in the environment.
  2. Model-Based Reflex Agents: These agents maintain a sort of "internal model" of the world and use it to make decisions. For instance, a navigation app that reroutes you based on traffic conditions.
  3. Goal-Based Agents: These agents are more sophisticated as they can formulate actions to achieve specific goals. A robot vacuum that learns the layout of your house to optimize cleaning paths is a great example.
  4. Utility-Based Agents: They not only pursue goals but also do it in a way that maximizes a particular utility, balancing cost and benefit. For example, an investment app that suggests stocks based on your financial goals and risk tolerance.
  5. Learning Agents: These are the most advanced type of AI agents, capable of learning from their past experiences to improve their performance over time. Think of a game-playing AI that gets better the more games it plays.

Applications of AI Agents

What makes AI agents exciting is their ability to dynamically understand their environment and adjust their actions to work towards some goal. As a operator, you don't need to explicitly define requirements or expectations, but rather be a reviewer of the output, providing feedback and guidance to keep the agent on track.

For example, a real estate broker might need a report on the Seattle real estate market. The AI agent can go open a web browser, search the web, and create a properly formatted report on the Seattle real estate market with the most important details. If it requires assistance, it can pause its execution and escalate up to you, (i.e. "human-in-the-loop"), just like a direct report at in an organization would.

Here are some other areas that AI Agents could be beneficial:

  • Healthcare: AI agents can analyze medical data to help diagnose diseases faster and with more accuracy than ever before.
  • Education: AI tutoring systems can provide personalized learning experiences, adapting to each student's pace and style.
  • Transportation: Self-driving cars use AI agents to navigate and respond to road conditions.
  • Entertainment: AI agents power recommendation systems in streaming platforms like Netflix, helping you find shows you'll love.

The Future of AI Agents

As large-language models advance and become cheaper, AI agents will become more sophisticated and integrated into more aspects of our daily lives. It's hard to predict just how revolutionary they will be, but if the PC or Internet revolutions are any indicator, a world filled with agents will probably be just as impactful.

These systems have the potential to solve the most complex problems we face today. I'm excited to see how the world will change in the coming decades. If you're interested in learning more, check out this article here.

Thanks for reading!