The Knowledge Engineering Review

Research Article

Software agents: an overview

Hyacinth S. Nwanaa1

a1 Intelligent Systems Research, Advanced Applications & Technology Department, BT Laboratories, Martlesham Heath, Ipswich, Suffolk IP5 7RE, UK (Email:


Agent software is a rapidly developing area of research. However, the overuse of the word “agent” has tended to mask the fact that, in reality, there is a truly heterogeneous body of research being carried out under this banner. This overview paper presents a typology of agents. Next, it places agents in context, defines them and then goes on, inter alia, to overview critically the rationales, hypotheses, goals, challenges and state-of-the-art demonstrators of the various agent types in our typology. Hence, it attempts to make explicit much of what is usually implicit in the agents literature. It also proceeds to overview some other general issues which pertain to all the types of agents in the typology. This paper largely reviews software agents, and it also contains some strong opinions that are not necessarily widely accepted by the agent community.