SEND A (SOFTWARE) AGENT ON A MARS MISSION?
A software agent is like a skilled surrogate to whom a person has delegated a measure of authority, but the agent takes the form of computer software. The three main kinds of software agents come in five performance levels, and all differ from traditional computer applications. The typical software agent acts like an errand runner, or like a messenger set of "ears and eyes", and typically provides a way of automating tasks that people find to be mundane, dull and repetitive. Six important determinants of a software agent's usefulness in Mars missions are the agent's capabilities, the scope of the accessible data, the natural barriers present, the intentional barriers in place, the skills of the agent's principal, and the facilities and resources of the mission's supporting infrastructure. A description of seven examples of possible roles of agents on Mars missions highlights some aspects of the determinants and how agents are developed and modified. This leads to a review of five major reasons why Mars missions will want to use agents, and four major reasons why Mars missions will not want to use agents. The conclusion is that the pro reasons will outweigh the con reasons, in order to enhance the value that human beings can contribute in Mars missions. But the con reasons are sufficiently strong to lead to limitations in the use of software agents on Mars missions.