1991

Softbots


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Searching the Internet and the World Wide Web just got a little easier, thanks to the efforts of UW researchers who have designed electronic "slaves" that can seek out information for you.

The Internet is a collection of computer networks that contain a cornucopia of information. But finding something in a hurry in that electronic haystack is not always easy. Several searching tools have been created to help users find needed information, but they can be difficult to access at peak times of system usage. And even then, a user may need to run more than one type of search to try to locate the desired data.

In 1991, UW computer scientists Oren Etzioni and Daniel Weld set out to create a software robot, or "softbot," that could make searching easier and faster. They gave the softbot a detailed knowledge of the Internet, along with enough artificial intelligence to interpret instructions and to evaluate and screen retrieved information. The Internet softbot was recognized by Discover magazine's 1995 Awards for Technological Innovation as a finalist in the software category.footnote 1 Apple Computer has licensed a component of this technology.

With graduate student Erik Selberg, Etzioni developed a similar softbot for the World Wide Web, called "MetaCrawler," that can operate eight search tools simultaneously, rather than just one at a time as a user would have to do. Moreover, MetaCrawler uses its artificial "noodle" to prune as much as 75% of the material it finds that is irrelevant, outdated, or unavailable, saving users the trouble of sifting through mountains of data themselves.


  1. "Sixth Annual Technology Awards," Discover, June 1995, p. 74.
  2. "Along Come The Spiders: 'Crawlers,' other search tools help avoid Web's snares," Warren Wilson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Nov. 13, 1995, p. B4.
  3. "Along came the spiders: The busy creatures who will guide you through the Internet," Philip E. Ross and Nikhil Hutheesing, Forbes, Oct. 23, 1995, p. 210.

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