Lovelace lecture 2010

What will a companionable computational agent be like?

Speaker: Prof Yorick Wilks, professor at the Oxford Internet Institute, Balliol College.

The lecture will begin by looking at the state of the art in modelling realistic conversation with computers over the last forty years, and argues that there is real progress even though some systems of the late 1960s were remarkably good, despite being largely forgotten now.

What might we want in a long-term conversational agent, designed for a long-term relationship between computer and user, rather than its carrying out a single brief task (like buying a railway ticket)? Prof Wilks refers to such an agent as “companionable”.

He distinguishes several functions for such agents, but the feature they share is that, in some definable sense, a computer companion ‘knows’ a great deal about its owner and can use that information.

For this lecture, it will not be important what form, robotic or otherwise, a companion has, and Prof Wilks will not focus on developments in speech understanding and generation but instead assume the state of the art. The focus will be on what such a companion should know and how it can gain and use such knowledge through the understanding of conversations.