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"If I had to get a new Ph.D. now, I'd get it in polymer engineering - the manipulation of matter."
- Bart Kosko

Data-Retrieval Programs  
  Programs that searched the Net for specific information.  

This seems like an early use of the idea of "intelligent agents."

The visible portion of the flow was only a sliver, a fragment distilled and sent back to this nexus by her electronic servants - her ferrets and foxes, her badgers and hounds - data-retrieval programs euphemistically named after bests, some now extinct but known in earlier times for their tenacity, hunger and unwillingness to take "no" for an answer. All over the world, Daisy's electronic emissaries searched and probed at her bidding, prying loose secrets, correlating, combining, devouring.

...

A few words to her autosecretary would send a ferret program forth to fetch the truth in milliseconds.

From Earth, by David Brin.
Published by Bantam in 1990
Additional resources -

The earliest speculations on the idea of an intelligent agent date to the early nineteen-seventies. Carl Hewitt, Peter Bishop, and Richard Steiger published a paper in 1973 on the Actor model. An "actor" is an entity that can make local decisions, create more actors, determine responses and send messages.

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