I ran into a bot for the very first time back in the year 2000. These computer programs ideally automate tasks normally handled by humans. For me, the bot streamlined a shopping task. At the time, it blew my mind.
I was heading out on a business trip to the Netherlands, and I wanted to capture the trip in pictures with a new camera. My job was to support the rollout of a warehouse management system (WMS) for a 3PL service provider in the small port city of Moerdijk. They also wanted to roll out improved distribution processes to help support the business of some large electronics OEMs.
I was all excited and I wanted to buy the best camera for the trip. I did my research and found out that the Canon EOS Rebel 2000 was market leader of the time. Next, I set about finding the best deal on my chosen model. Although e-commerce was still in early days, I had had a good experience buying a watch a few months earlier so I decided to go online again. As I started my research, I encountered the MySimon.com shop bot. It promised to crawl the Internet to find the best price for the product and collate a list all the vendors that carried the product.
mySimon's proprietary Virtual Learning Agent (VLA) technology took a unique approach to creating mass quantities of intelligent agents that mimicked human behavior and could be "trained" to extract specific information from any merchant Web site. The agents were created by mySimon Product Intelligence (SPIs), non-programmers that interact with the VLA system. mySimon didn’t even necessarily attempt to comprehend a single vendor’s site with a single agent; their arsenal back then was approximately 9,000 agents designed to glean pricing information from 2,200 merchants. Nonprogrammers used a proprietary language to script agents with an emphasis on simplicity, minimizing the cost of adding new vendors or dealing with a redesign. In addition to agents that crawled merchant sites multiple times per day, agents for particularly volatile or esoteric commodities like books and movies would be spawned in real time. Later that year, CNET bought mySimon for about $800 million.
Once mySimon had pointed me to the best bargain, I called the e-tailer, made sure the product was available at that price and ordered it. B&H Video delivered my camera in time for me to take it to Europe and I took the best pictures ever. I knew I was seeing the start of something that had the potential to transform businesses of all kinds.