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AI History rhymes

Some eerie echoes of today’s AI trends in the discourse around “agents” from the mid-90’s. Always with the same old promises. Swap out “personal AI assistant” for “agent” in this brief aside from a New York Times feature of a personal agent website created all the way back in 1996, and it’d be right at home in any major publication today:

As soon as you give your agent your personal tastes about restaurants, plays or clothing, it begins fetching things for you — even things you didn’t know you wanted. Your agent knows that you like Latin jazz, for example. A record company with access to the data sends you an ad: a Tito Puente CD is about to come out. Knowing that music and food tastes sometime overlap, your software agent even recommends that you try a new Caribbean restaurant in your neighborhood.

Next month, you are traveling to Boston for the first time (in arranging the airplane tickets, your agent has already found the cheapest fare, reserved your aisle seat and ordered a vegetarian meal). Knowing you like small, intimate Italian places, your agent searches a pool of people whose taste is similar to yours, and then recommends three places in the North End: Massimino’s, D’Parma and Terramia.