A Brainy Agent That Sifts The Net For You

IT SEEMS SO SMART: USE software to scour the far-flung corners of the Internet to search for data. Sadly, though, many of the early so-called intelligent-agent programs scored low on I.Q. tests. Now, Autonomy Inc., a British company recently transplanted to Palo Alto, Calif., says it has a smarter agent.

The technology, dubbed Agentware, allows consumers to search for information based on concepts rather than just key words. For instance, when you ask for material on the Pittsburgh Pirates, you'll just get baseball stuff, not everything about pirates and Pittsburgh. Plus, Autonomy's agents--which scan what you read to learn your interests--lurk on the Web and send out E-mail alerts when something relevant pops up. Autonomy, which already has British customers, is talking to prospects here. Deals are expected soon with Associated Press, Macmillan Publishing Co., and others willing to shell out $20,000 to $500,000, depending on the number of features.

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