John Eikenberry: Free Agent

September 02nd, 1999 | Category: Interviews

John EikenberryAfter graduating from the University of Georgia with a master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence, John Eikenberry turned to the web to continue his career. His thesis focused on “using semantic networks for keyword analysis and document classification,” which was achieved mainly by developing independent agents. His current work is centered around a bot/agent development environment.

John is young and talented and has a firm start in a young field with plenty of room for discovery. Here’s to seeing what develops.

Roy Christopher: How long have you been interested in/involved with AI?

John Eikenberry: After being really into computers in secondary school, I lost interest in them for a few years in college. During this time I studied psychology and philosophy (dual major), and went on to get a master’s in philosphy. My specialty in Pphilosophy was a rather esoteric area known as phenomenological psychology… basically the study of the mind in terms of how it manifests and is experienced (perfectly clear now, heh).

During this time an evil friend of mine introduced me to MUDs (actually, to a MUSH, but thats splitting hairs). This got me back into computers big time. I scrounged around and built myself a little 386 and tracked down a modem just so I could MUD from home.

As they say, timing is everything, for just as I was getting back into computers, my plans to continue my philosophy studies in China fell through leaving me to reconsider my future. Not getting into all the reasons, I ended up decided it was time to switch over into computers. And it just seemed obvious that the logical combination of my interests in the mind and computers would be AI.

Anyway, I found AI to more than live up to my hopes. It provided realm where I could both deal with the fun philosophical topics and work on implementing the logical extensions of my ideas.

RC: What are your major career goals for the short and long terms?

JE: In the short term, I plan on keeping my current job for awhile. Its not AI-related (web stuff), but its for a small start-up with a great group of people and great working conditions. I get practically complete control over my work environment and I have a lot of say in what I work on (within the company’s focus, of course).

I have been keeping up with the AI circles that interest me though (mainly bot/agent stuff) and plan on staying in it. With hope, I’ll eventually be a freelancing remote consultant. I say remote because I’m planning on moving overseas in 2-3 years (Malta is the current working destination). I’m hoping my current project works out so that it can be a bases for this. Who knows? I’ll wait to see what comes.

RC: I know some of your AI research has been with independent agents. Where do you see your work fitting into the future of the Web and AI/CS in general?

JE: Hmm… I’m not so sure about how my work would fit into AI/CS in general. I’d like to think that what I’ll be doing will find some receptive minds in acedemia, though I don’t count on anything. One thing that I realized while studying Philosophy, was that academia was enamored with the abstract. It had no room for pragmatics. This was blatantly obvious in philosophy, but you can see it in AI as well. In my opinion, the best philosophers (not necessarily my favorites, just the most influential) of recent times have been science fiction writers. People like Gene Roddenbury and Neil Stephenson have been much more influential than any living academic philosopher. They’re all busy talking amoungst themselves, while the Sci-Fi writers have been busy influencing the next generation of philosophers. Oops… Got on a rant there… What was the question again? Oh yeah.

I hope my work will be useful. That it will make the internet more fun. That’s why I do it, that’s how I hope others will find it. In this vein, I’m looking more at games than at the WWW. I think the WWW is a transitory medium. In my opinion, the future of the internet is in active (as opposed to the WWW, which is passive) communication and entertainment. This is where I hope to focus my work, and networked games are the best example of this right now.

RC: You’ve been a Linux user for years now. What is your take on the recent ground swell of hype and interest surrounding this OS?

JE: It really came as no suprise to me. I’ve used GNU/Linux for a 5-6 years now, and during that time I saw a pattern emerging. Each year, people would make predictions for where they saw it the next year, and every year Linux did much better than even the most optimistic of them predicted. This has remained just as true in recent times as much as it ever has.

I do have certain concerns over the IPOs of the various distributions. It could be good or bad, it all depends on the respective company’s board of directors. There are no guarantees one way or the other, and I don’t worry so much about the community, in my opinion, they can adapt. Makes me think twice about whether I’d buy any stock though.

RC: You have a vast history in the fields of philosophy and AI. It would be impossible for me to cover them here with any brevity. Is there any facet of your research you’d like to bring up that I haven’t already?

JE: Well, seeing as I kept referring to it above, I guess I’ll describe my current project here a bit. I’m currently working on a bot/agent development environment. As I mentioned above, I’m (at least initially) concentrating fun things (i.e.. games). I’m looking to implement a game AI/bot system for various network centric games like WorldForge and XShipWars . Its still on the drawing board, but I’ve pretty much made all the major starting decisions and will begin coding soon. And as it will be done in python, it should shape up quickly. I’ll be keeping notes and news about it on my website if you’re interested.

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