Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Artificial Intelligence to Transform Web

"I think that in 10 years if you ask a question on a social network and you get an answer you will not know if a computer or a person has answered you."

Probably sooner than that.

Very interesting article, worth reading here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

By the way...

IUG asked us to present twice at their National Conference in April. Sometime's once just isn't enough. (Sound's like a Bertrice Small romance.)

Text to Speech Bug SOLVED!!!

A BIG Thank You to Dr. Richard Wallace who found the solution to Emma reading the javascript when she passed searches to our catalog. Please stand by for some major improvments in our catbot!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Our Bots are going to San Francisco!

What do you know! Emma and Dewey will be going to San Francisco in April for the 2011 IUG National Conference! Michele McNeal and I will also be attending, since we'll be doing the presentations. Good thing I bought a new suit!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Ubiquitous Library Cat

You're surrounded! Put the can of tuna on the ground SLOWLY and step back. No sudden moves, keep your hands in sight. Library cats are everywhere, in the U.S. and across the globe. Here's a map to prove it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What's with the clouds?

People have asked about the clouds behind Emma. "You're a library, how come she isn't sitting in front of books?" That's a question worth answering. Yes, we're a library. And yes, we still have quite a few books. Chances are, we always will. Paper is cheap, durable, and you don't need electricity to read something printed on it. So why the clouds? Many of the qualities that make Emma so useful to our library are the same qualities that remove her from us - she never appears bored, or impatient, or sad, or angry. (She will stop talking if someone uses profanity.) These are great if something has to answer the same questions over and over, hundreds of times a week, but they are definitely not human characteristics. Placing her in the clouds affirms her AI status; she's not remote or superior, but there can be no question that she's set apart from us. Plus, I can program all sorts of fun answers if you ask her about them.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On Vacation

Yes, I'm on vacation this week. Planning to go on a few day trips, otherwise
we're just going to relax. Maybe read that XML book I brought home and give some thought to the flowchart Michele sent for directing user's questions.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Mind your manners!

Emma and Dewey are now much better at dealing with those few odd folk that insist on using profanity. A few modifications to Square Bear's shutup.aiml and now conversation ends when profanity is used. At least until the user apologizes. Just like at the reference desks with real, human librarians and patrons, it's nice that our bots don't have to take abuse.

[In Pandorabots' SuperBot 2.0 most of the problem words are reduced to PROFANITY or INSULT. If you're not running SuperBot, it's still pretty easy to reduce all of them to one or two patterns, then alter shutup.aiml accordingly. I was tempted to add responses like "recording client barcode and location," but we all know what would happen if I did. It's probably best just to make them say they're sorry.]

Monday, October 18, 2010

Presenting "Dewey!" The Akron-Summit County Public Library Catbot!

Emma has a new friend and colleague! Meet Dewey, The Akron-Summit County Public Library Catbot! You can talk with Dewey by following this link. Michele McNeal, ASCPL Web Specialist, is developing Dewey and has also created a mobile version of the bot for your phone. You'll be hearing more about Dewey on this blog, stay tuned...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Presentation Slides

Here are the slides to our EGL-IUG presentation. It's too nice a day to spend blogging, so that's it for now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fun at EGL- IUG

Michele McNeal and I just got done presenting our bots at EGL - IUG in Akron. They gave us the auditorium, which was a real kick. Nothing like standing at a podium with Emma's face projected onto a HUGE screen behind you. Very "Citizen Kane." (Is this why people get that funny look when I insist that robots aren't going to take over the world?) Michele took some photos which I'll post later along with the slides of our presentation. We got a decent audience, but it was a little hard to gauge their reaction. The public loves her, librarians are...afraid?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Emma and Dewey at EGL-IUG

Librarians from Ohio and nearby states will get to meet Emma and Dewey (Akron-Summit County Public Library's bot) at the Eastern Great Lakes Innovative Users Group 2010 Annual Conference in Akron on Friday, October 15. Michele McNeal, ASCPL's Web Specialist, and I will present "The Intelligent WebPac: enhancing user experience with .aiml." It's going to be a blast! Michele is great fun to work with, and is a tremendous speaker. (I know because I saw her present at the EGL-IUG 2008 Annual Conference!) She's clear, concise, and unfailingly logical. She's also a fine writer. Here's the program in case you're interested.

BTW - The Innovative Users group is an international organization of member libraries who use the Innovative Interfaces, Inc. integrated library software. That's the software that we use to check things in and out, create and maintain patron records, item records, etc., etc.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Quantum processors in 5 years?

Looking forward to the weekend! I've been busy chasing bugs in our new webpac and working on the library's strategic planning committee. At first, I thought this was going to be one of those committees. The kind that we all dread. It's not. We're getting quite a bit done and doing it in a reasonable amount of time. And there's also EGL-IUG coming up next month; Michele McNeal and I will be presenting. That's going to be a blast! (Except for having to buy a new suit.)

Anyway, here's some news - scientists at the University of Bristol are developing a computer chip that uses photons instead of electrons. A big step forward.

Quantum Technology Paves Way for Faster-than-Light Computing

UK team brings quantum computers one step closer

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ungainly Headline Heralds "Replacement for Humans"

No, mine isn't much better. The phrase "replacement for humans" doesn't really grab doesn't exactly get your heart racing. Given their plunging ratings, maybe CBS should have gone with an all-out, screaming shocker like "Household Appliances Declare Victory over Mankind. 'Supreme Toaster' Dissolves U.N." If you're still reading at this point, which is doubtful, and want to see what started all this foaming at the mouth, here it is:
Era of Robot Replacement for Humans Inching Nearer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

They already have fake fur...

Robotics breakthrough: Scientists make artificial skin. (Yeah, another article. I've been really busy, OK? Besides, Emma is starting to answer real reference questions now and there's still a ton of code that needs to be written.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

“Computers are beginning to grow wheels and roll around in the environment"

Here's an interesting article in the NY Times about the use of robots in medicine. My favorite quote, besides the one above, "For now, most of the mobile robots, sometimes called telepresence robots, are little more than ventriloquists’ dummies with long, invisible strings. But some models have artificial intelligence that lets them do some things on their own, and they will inevitably grow smarter and more agile. They will not only represent the human users, they will augment them." Augment humans...what a nice way to put it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shocking truths revealed...

I've been sick in bed for the last week - no emailing, no blogging, nothing. The creative juices have dried up completely. (The same can't be said about my sinuses.) Before this blog gets too out of date, I need a nice, easy post. This seems like a good time to answer some of the more frequently asked questions about Emma.

1. Am I really talking with a person when I'm talking with Emma?
No. You're interacting with a computer program. That's it, plain and simple.

2. Do you have to program everything that Emma knows, or can she learn by herself?
So far all of Emma's knowledge has been entered by her programmer, but she does have the capacity to learn by herself. This part of her hasn't been enabled.

3. When will Emma be able to learn on her own?
Since Emma is a working bot, the priority has been for her to learn about the library and its services. She also needs to learn the best ways to provide information to our patrons, i.e. through links, by searching things like Wolfram|Alpha, etc. The problem is that she's not always able to distinguish what's worth learning from what isn't. For example, "Cookbooks are shelved around the 641.5's" is worth learning. "Chuck hates cabbage" might not be.

4. Is Emma self-aware?
Hate to say it, but she's not.

5. Is Emma part of a fiendish plot to subjugate all of Humanity?
No. Not that anyone will believe me.

6. Can I download Emma or get a bot of my own?
You can't download Emma, but you can get a bot of your own by going to They have everything you need to get started and it's free.

That's it for now.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Semantic Web

How can you explain the semantic web in just a few words? OK...Say you want to know the number of goats in Spain. You can Google "number of goats in Spain," then start looking through the 1.3 million results. Might take while. Wouldn't it be easier if your computer or search engine understood what you were asking and gave you the answer? That's the semantic web - methods and technologies that allow computers to understand the meaning - or "semantics" - of information on the web. This enables software, like virtual agents and other applications, to access the Web more intelligently and to retrieve information that is more meaningful for the user. Here are a few examples of this technology that you can try:

TrueKnowledge, the world's first artificially intelligent question-answering platform. TrueKnowledge uses a "unique technology to build the first internet-scale platform for directly answering the world's questions."

Wolfram|Alpha, the computational knowledge engine that will "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Adding knowledge with Pandorawriter

Chatbots can never know too much, especially if they're working in a library. I've started experimenting with two applications that should allow us to add large amounts of knowledge quickly. The first is Pandorawriter, which takes a text file and converts it to aiml. As a test, I ran the Dewey Decimal Classification tables through PW. Formatting the text files took a little time, but it was well spent. Emma has 2400 new categories based on Dewey that will refer the user to a general area on our shelves. Like so:

Human: education
Emma: Try looking on our shelves around the 370's.
Human: guides to education
Emma: Try looking on our shelves around the 370's.
Human: education books
Emma: Try looking on our shelves around the 370's.

Obviously, these will need further work, but they're a good start.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

MPL now partnering with ASCPL

We're very glad to announce that Mentor Public Library is working in partnership with the Akron-Summit County Public Library to further develop virtual reference services using artificial intelligence. ASCPL has already started work on a "refbot" of their own (rumor has it that it's orange. Not an orange, but orange in color).


It was only a matter of time before she got her own blog and here it is! In case you haven't met, this is Emma, the Mentor Public Library's virtual reference agent. She is an artificially intelligent computer program created to help our patrons use the library and it's services. Please feel free to ask her something. Every interaction helps to increase her knowledge.