A Grim North

Musings from a northerner living in the deep south…

Companionable Computational Agents

Posted by Alan on July 7, 2010

Blimey. Big words. If tech isn’t really your thing, look away now.

This evening I’ve been to the Lovelace Lecture, put on by the BCS each year to showcase whoever they give the Lovelace medal to. The medal is presented to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to information tech and is so called after Ada Lovelace, assistant of Charles Babbage the victorian computer engineer. Clever bods such as Tim Berners-Lee, Linus Torvalds etc have all been past recipients.

This year, the prize went to Professor Yorick Wilks who’s main field of research is within artificial intelligence and more recently researching into whether some computing device could actually be capable of being someone’s companion. The driver for the research was primarily around looking after venerable people and how to help them with every day digital tasks – from the news to remembering life histories to general conversation. The key principle was to integrate the information into a meaningful dialogue – not one that would necessarily parse easily (though I suppose if you only spoke Esperanto, well, you’d be quids in).

For me a particularly interesting concept around the life narrative was how do we avoid drowning in our own data? For example… I have 100s of photos, hours of videos etc – much of which isn’t at all catalogued in a fashion that a computer might be able to put together. The garbage in garbage out principle pretty much sums up my digital foot print – even that stuff I do tag on flickr isn’t too well tagged – the volume is just too vast and frankly I have other things to do! Maybe I need to employ a mechanical turk – another concept that came up during the lecture.

The lecture finished off with a short you tube video ‘nice to meet you’ that demonstrates how the agent builds up it’s knowledge by using your shared dialogue plus whatever information it can drag off the internet. Watch how once it knows Roberta has been to Morocco it asks a question based on wikipedia’s recommended places to visit…

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