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 Before this blog gets too out of date, I need a nice, easy post.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.