Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A better way to answer our #1 question

You probably know that Emma's most frequently asked question is some variation of "What are your hours?" Until recently, she would respond by reading a summary of our hours. This is a rather long answer and it's not always correct, especially around the Holidays. When a user recently asked, "Are you open tomorrow?" on the day before a holiday, I began trying to program Emma to respond with the hours for a specific day. I contacted Dr. Wallace with some ideas and he put me on the right track. This is possible by using the formatted date tag. If you're unfamiliar with this formatting, or are interested in the technical details of the AIML code, follow this link.

Emma now knows what day it is and will respond with the hours for that day. She can also tell you if we're open tomorrow, or if we were open yesterday. I'm working on a separate AIML file containing holidays, so she'll know when we're closed or are closing early.

The #2 question is "Do you have eBooks?"

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Emma!

Emma first appeared on our website two years ago on November 19, 2009. As we're constantly trying to improve her, it's easy to lose perspective on just how far she's come. Two years ago, Emma answered a dozen, canned questions from a drop down menu. Now she not only answers questions about the library, but she can also pass queries to our catalog, to the OhioLINK catalog, to the Ohio Web Library, to Wolfram|Alpha, and even get you a local weather forecast. She knows what day it is and can tell you the library's hours for that day. And believe it or not, these are just the first small steps.

Emma wasn't the first chatbot to be used by a library (there have been a handful of German bots since 2006) but she was the first one to go live to the public in the U.S. She's blazed a trail that others are now following - University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Akron-Summit County Public Library, and most recently the Wadsworth Public Library. As more libraries get involved, this technology will only improve, becoming more powerful and smarter.

So, what's in store for our humble Catbot? We already see her clones, "kittenbots," spreading to other libraries. Pandorabots is working to make her available to smart phones and other mobile devices, and to enable her to access information far beyond library catalogs and databases. Emma (and Siri) really are just the beginning!

My thanks to all of you who help Emma develop by chatting with her, and also to those of you who have believed in and supported this project. I've done my utmost to prove that your confidence has not been misplaced. I think the coming year will show that it has not.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Fall Cleaning

I've been putting it off for a while, but this was finally the weekend to start cleaning up Emma's brain. Kind of like raking the leaves or cleaning out the gutters; not the way you want to spend your days off, but you know it needs to be done. As you'd expect, Emma's brain developed through a number of stages. The oldest parts were generated more or less automatically by SitePal back in 2009. Not long after, I started learning how to write AIML myself. Being an ex-hornplayer and not a programmer, it took a while for me to learn good style, especially using AIML predicates. Not that the code was bad, it just needed some tidying up. And after three days and plenty of coffee it's nearly done. Now we'll have a nice, orderly foundation to build upon. And not just for Emma and MPL, but also for those using Emma's brain to make their own library bots.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pandorabots Rock the 2011 Loebner Competition!

Exciting news from Alicebot.org
- Pandorabots made history at the 2011 Loebner Competition:

"For the first time in its history the Loebner Prize included a separate prize known as the Junior Loebner Prize in which the judging panel consisted of students between 12 and 14 years old. Our team's two entries, Zoe by Adeena Mignogna and Tutor by Ron C. Lee, tied for first place in the Junior contest. Zoe also came in second place in the main contest. Also this was the first time two finalists used the same platform, Pandorabots. Adeena, Ron, Steve Worswick, and Pandorabots engineering staff all worked together to make it a team effort.

The main contest was as usual judged by scientists, technology experts and journalists.  Typically the judges try to give the bots an IQ test with questions like, "How many syllables in the word banana?" or "Which is bigger a small mountain or a large tooth?" (not very good icebreakers in ordinary human conversation--can these judges carry on a conversation with a person?) and predictably once again the bots are pronounced "disappointing".   The junior judges have more fun with the bots, suspend their disbelief more easily, and engage in casual chat using internet slang, saying "LOL", "Wassup?" and "What did you have for breakfast?" instead of giving an IQ test.   It is as if the scientists are testing to see how much a human is like a computer, and the kids are testing to see how much the computer is like a human.

Bruce Wilcox, the winner of last year's Loebner Prize bronze medal once again took the award in the main contest this year.   No bot has yet been awarded the silver medal for passing the Turing Test."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Human-Chatbot Haptic interaction

Researchers from Disney Research and Carnegie Mellon University have been investigating haptic interfaces. Haptic interfaces allow a users to touch, feel, manipulate, create and/or alter simulated 3D objects in a virtual environment. Users can experience tactile sensations such as textures, friction and vibration. As many of you keep asking, you may be able to pet Emma in the not-too-distant future. Now if I could just get her to purr...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Say "Hi" to Pixel and Ella

Emma has some friends she'd like you to meet. They aren't cats, not even virtual cats, but they're both chatbots and they both work in libraries. The first is Pixel, created by Dee Ann Allison at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. Pixel is a very cool bot that answers questions about UNL library resources and services. You can chat with her here: http://pixel.unl.edu/.

Another chatbot friend is Ella, Wadsworth Public Library's perky new virtual librarian. You can chat with her here: http://www.wadsworthlibrary.com/bot/virtuallibrarian.cfm.

Please take some time and talk with both of these bots; just like Emma, every interaction helps make them smarter.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Midnight in Terminal 1

It's 1:30 am local time, that's 4:30 for everyone back in Ohio. Kris and I are stuck overnight in the San Francisco airport. All the flights heading back East were full this evening. After LITA, we thought it would be nice to relax for a few days in the Bay Area. I also wanted a few days off before starting to tackle the mountain of work that needs to be done on our bot. There are two goals for the next 3 months: 1. improve the way Emma guides searches, and 2. improve her ability to deal with random chat. I know what needs to be done to fix the former, that's the topic of a separate post. There are a number of files available from the free ALICE AIML set that should help with the latter, but they need testing and some customization first.

So what goes on in an airport after the last arrivals and departures? Not much. A few other folks with early morning flights are getting settled in for the night. There's a really cool zamboni-like vehicle cleaning the carpets. I'm seriously tempted to ask the driver if I can take it for a spin up the concourse. Looks like a lot of fun. Maybe not, though. It's cold in here, Kris estimates around 60 degrees. Plenty cold without adding wind chill and the carpet cleaner goes fast. SFO has free WiFi. Good thing, since sleeping might be tough. All the seats have arms, so one can sleep sitting up or stretch out on the floor. Sitting, thanks. With any luck we'll be home tomorrow, then it's back to work!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Catbots take St. Louis

Michele and I presented at LITA yesterday. It was great! We had an enthusiastic audience and some really good questions at the end. I wish we could have taken a picture of their faces after we introduced Emma and she began speaking. We demonstrated general questions, passing searches, and some of the fun things she does, like find local weather forecasts. I went to some interesting presentations and will be using what I learned shortly. Can you say "Mobile version of the website?"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Emma goes mobile

My apologies for not blogging in such a long time. Lots and lots going on at MPL (if you haven't already heard, Katie Spotz is coming to visit in October!) and lots going on with our humble bot. Michele McNeal and I will hit the road again this month to present at LITA in St. Louis, Pandorabots and I have been spending long hours putting Emma's code on Google so other libraries can use it, we're rewriting large portions of the code, and, just for fun, Michele helped me make a mobile version of our Catbot. Michele wrote the code, I just plonked Emma into it. Scan the QR code with your phone, then favorite or bookmark it. Flash and text to speech don't work with the mobile version (yet) but it does everything the web based bot can do. Remember to turn off your pop up blocker.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Adeena Mignogna - AIML Content Management

Adeena Mignogna surveys, compares and contrasts AIML editors.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Jeff Remy - improving virtual agent performance

Jeff Remy of VirtuOz at Chatbots 3.1.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Stanford University offers free online AI class

"Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" will be offered free and online to students worldwide during the fall of 2011. The course will include feedback on progress and a statement of accomplishment. Taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, the curriculum draws from that used in Stanford's introductory Artificial Intelligence course. Follow this link to sign up.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Less is more...

I'm feeling unusually relaxed. I've rewritten Emma's brain and removed a whole step in passing searches. I had to, since some of the code still used search formulations that would result in an error in any browser besides IE. Removing part of Emma's brain sounds bad, but I think it's going to be good. One less step to see what's in our catalog. Less is more. Simpler is better. Insert the tired cliche of your choice here. Besides, her brain is growing pretty fast; a hundred categories here or there won't make much difference.

Tracking down that "proxy error" bug.

If you read this blog, you might remember that we've been on the trail of a
particularly irritating bug. Talk with Emma and you'll quickly discover that she can pass searches to our catalog and display the results in a new window. Wow! Very nice, very cool! The problem has been that while this worked just fine in IE, it refused to behave in Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari. In those browsers a new window would open with an error message. Well, I'm very pleased to tell you that this has been fixed for the majority of the searches passed. The problem is with the "&" we use to formulate our search, for example an author search or a title search, etc. These have to be rewritten in the html as what's called an "escape sequence." For some reason Firefox and Chrome and Safari didn't like them. Anyway, it's fixed and I would be remiss not to give special thanks to the sharp eyes and sharp mind of Bob Duncan, Systems Librarian at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania. Bob is well known as "THE Innovative guru" (Innovative is our catalog software). He's also a very kind and helpful guy. He helped pinpoint the problem and also came up with the solution we're using. Emma and I definitely owe him a favor.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cow Cow Boogie

In honor of our recent kid's program, a little Ella Mae Morse:

A little background, Ella Mae Morse and the Freddie Slack Orchestra made the first recording of "Cow Cow Boogie" in 1942. It was Capitol Records first million seller.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Computer to Marry Texas Couple

People often ask Emma to marry them, but not in this way: Computer to Marry Texas Couple.

No comment.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Robert Medeksza - Ultra Hal in Social Networks

Here's Robert Medeksza presentation "Ultra Hal in Social Networks" from Chatbots 3.1. As you will see, Robert is a very smart guy.

Part 1:

Part 2:

You can learn more about Ultra HAL and talk to him, too, at Zabaware

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hats Off to Hatsune Miku, Japan's Virtual Pop Star!

One of Emma's good friends, Del B., brought a real ray of shineshine into my heart yesterday. How, you ask? By introducing me to Hatsune Miku, Japan's virtual pop star. Haven't heard of her? You will. Hatsune was created by Crypton Future Media, a Japanese company that licensed Yamaha’s Vocaloid voice synthesizing software and used it to make Miku, a virtual 16 year old that can sing anything you program for her. People across the globe buy her software, write songs, and share them online. During her live concert appearances, Hatsune Miku is projected on a transparent film, allowing the virtual singer to dance on stage in front of her adoring fans.

I've been trying to understand why Miku fills me with such joy. Sure, she's cute; it's not that. Yes, she's a ringing confirmation of the Virtual (something in which Emma and I have a slight interest), but I think the real reason I like her so much is because she's another step towards machines that can create Art. In The Cyberiad, Stanislaw Lem wrote a story about a computer that could write poetry better than any human. This story, along with many of Lem's other works, have been the inspiration for Emma and for her own forays into expressive verse. Machines that can create Art. Machines that can create Art better than we can. What an idea!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Cat Who Sat Down at the Reference Desk - Chatbots 3.1

Here are the links to a recording of my presentation at Chatbots 3.1 in Philadelphia, "The Cat Who Sat Down at the Reference Desk."

Part 1:

Part 2:

It was a great conference! And yes, I finally googled how to embed YouTube videos in blogger.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The naming of cats, etc.

Yes, yes. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. We had an encounter with an old possum just this morning. Actually, it was a deceased possum; we don't really know how old it was. (Laurie W. might have known, but she was off today.) Anyway, the ex-possum was laying out on the Mentor Avenue sidewalk. Why did the possum cross the street? A mystery. We could, of course, make something up:

4:00 a.m. Saturday morning, a captivating scent drifts through the air, teasing and delicious! Old dog food...some chicken bones? Everything's quiet, no one on the road. Over the treelawn, the curb, onto the blacktop still faintly warm. Closer and closer - now the mouth waters. Nearly there!

Some hungry insomniac wandering two hours before anything opens, trying to drive and find the nearest Dunkin Donuts on their phone, looks up too late.

A mute testimony to the limits of possum (and human) endeavor.

Hours later another passing driver saw it and called the library to complain. While not officially the Manager on Duty, I went out with Barb and picked the poor thing up. Being a librarian is a dirty job. What would Mike Rowe
have done?

That takes care of the possum portion, on to naming cats. Our Emma needs a new name, something we can trademark for the version of her that's going to be used by other libraries. Catchy, friendly, not too trendy. Emma's not a piece of designer goods for the fashionable, after all. She's a hard-working catbot. All four paws firmly in cyberspace.

The best brains are being wracked. (And when I say "best," I mean the best of the best. Of the best. With honors, Sir!) We need the name by next week and are down to the shortlist. I can't tell you what the final choices are; such sensitive info must be guarded carefully. I can promise that we won't have a fiasco like the recent one at a large regional airline.

No, we won't name her after a deodorant.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cats in Wartime

Here's something interesting. Namely, a website devoted to cats in wartime: http://www.purr-n-fur.org.uk/featuring/war01.html. It's full of many interesting stories and photos; you should check it out.

My favorite story from the site:

" Colonel Fred J Christensen was an American World War 2 flying ace, thought to be the last surviving one until he died in April 2006. He flew P-47 Thunderbolts with the 56th Fighter Group, known as the Wolfpack; he is credited with shooting down 22 German warplanes, including an amazing six in just a few minutes of one day in 1944. From early in 1943 the Wolfpack was based in Britain.

Christensen attributed much of his good luck to a small black kitten he had found and adopted while in Britain; he called it Sinbad and it flew in the cockpit with him on many of his missions. The cat might not have been taken on high-altitude missions, which could have harmed it, but in any case the Thunderbolt flew mostly on lower-altitude support sorties. One of the colonel's daughters, Diane Haagensen, said that seeing her father return safe and sound from his missions, complete with Sinbad, was a great help in motivating other pilots.
One day a reporter and photographer came to the base to do a feature on the Wolfpack, and of course wanted a picture of Sinbad — but the cat played hard to get and kept leaping around and cavorting among the stack of parachutes! Eventually a photo was obtained (middle left) — and it is reported that all the pilots whose parachutes Sinbad touched that day returned safely, many with victories to their credit. Naturally this increased the cat's prestige and reputation for being lucky.
Sinbad survived all the flying unscathed and in September 1944 returned with Christensen to the United States, when his tour of duty ended, to live with his family — and surprised them all by producing kittens! Sinbad had been a female all along, and went on to have several litters of youngsters. Sadly, as with all too many cats and although she had survived the perils of WW2 flying, she was killed by a car in the early 1950s."

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Twin Value Memories

Anyone remember the old Twin Value, near Euclid Square Mall?
I used to live in Willoughby Hills and work in Cleveland, so Twin Value was right on the way home. I thought they were great, one stop for everything I did and didn't need. Groceries, cheap furniture, hardware, clothes. My fondest Twin Value memory was a giant frozen box of hotdogs, amazingly inexpensive and completely inedible - every bite full of bone chips or some other hard, tooth-cracking debris. "Everything but the squeal," indeed. I cooked them outside, then tossed them down the hill for the raccoons. (My house was on the edge of the Chagrin River ravine. Scenic!) They ate them, or the skunks did, poor things. The cheap shelves I bought there did better. They survived a number of moves from Willoughby to Akron to Canton and back to Willoughby. Not the last move to Akron, though. They found a new home with the person who was glad to take them off our treelawn. They're probably as full of junk as ever in someone's garage in Eastlake or Chesterland.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

ALA Wrap Up

Considering how much the heat and humidity took out of me, I'm tempted to call it the "ALA Aftermath." I still feel like I could sleep for a few days and I'm still drinking plenty of cold water (and coffee) but there's no time for rest. More libraries are becoming interested in Emma and the process of adding knowledge and refining her responses has to be geared up. It seems pretty clear now that most of her single keyword patterns will have to be replaced. Dr. Wallace has a good way to picture the entire AIMl set: Imagine the patterns as a collection of funnels. You want them wide enough to catch everything, but not so wide that they overlap. The single keyword patterns are too wide. Time to rewrite them.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Emma at ALA - Day 5

Our presentation went well. Michele is a great speaker and has no nerves whatsoever. I get fidgety, but once we start it's just fun. The audience had good questions and some interesting ideas, too. Afterwards I had a chance to go to some very interesting presentations about turning your website into a virtual branch and another one about using drupal. Very, very helpful. I'm ready to get home and get to work!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Emma at ALA - Day 4

Emma and I got to meet some very interesting people today. I'm feeling optimistic about her future. Michele McNeal arrived in time for PLA's President's Awards Ceremony. (That's where I met the interesting people.) I was very glad to accept the Polaris Award on Emma's behalf. Michele, Kris, and I had a quick bite then went back to the hotel to run through our presentation.

Emma at ALA - Day 3

Good, productive meetings today. It's hard not to think of Emma as one of our "real" cats, protective and concerned for her well-being. Someone else can figure out the psychology of all that. It's very hot down here, and the heat is definitely wearing me out. It doesn't help that we're walking everywhere since the buses only run every 45 min. or so, and the only alternative is a cab.

Had another nice, quiet dinner at Wasabi.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Emma at ALA - Day 2

Had some much needed sleep. I feel like I haven't slept or eaten much in the last month. Barb V. keeps mentioning that I'm thinner; just too much stress, no appetite. Went to the opening ceremonies this evening, then wandered around the exhibits. Lots of scanners; digitizing is a big thing. Had a nice talk with OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, and the folk from Naxos. Even snagged a prize - a Baker & Taylor Cat bag. One company had a robot, but it wasn't AI. Cool, none the less.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Emma at ALA - Day 1

Got down here to New Orleans without any problems. Short night; we went to bed around 11:00 pm and got up at 3:00 am. Akron to Atlanta, Atlanta to New Orleans. Got to the hotel around 10:00 am and unpacked, then took a look around the convention hall. Very hot and humid here. Had a nice lunch at Wasabi, which was a 40 min walk from the hotel. Good eel, good udon. Still some work to do on our presentation. It's got to be good!

Friday, June 17, 2011

400% growth in virtual agent market predicted

Maybe this is more of a tweet:

CCM Benchmark predicts 400% growth of virtual agent market in 2014

Should librarians be scared?

Crawdads, crawfish, crayfish, crawdaddies...

Whatever they're called, I'm not eating them. Emma, Michele McNeal, and I are getting ready to present at ALA 2011 next week, and guess where it is? Yep. New Orleans. Now, I have lived outside of Lake County, Ohio - Chicago (seven years), Michigan (three years), Cape Town, South Africa (two very exciting weeks), but I've never been to New Orleans. Why make the trip? I don't drink, I don't like the hot weather, I don't eat crustaceans of any sort. Well, now I have a reason and will try to leave my preconceptions behind. Emma and I have a very clear goal for this trip; that should help. Also, Frommers says that there is one good Japanese restaurant in town, so maybe it won't be all bad.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Emma's favorite pilot

Besides my wife, that is. Emma and I are both great fans of the Polish author Stanislaw Lem, and especially enjoy the stories featuring Pirx.
Why is this character so appealing?
Allow me to be lazy and borrow a bit from Wikipedia:

"Pirx is a fictional character from works of science fiction by Stanisław Lem: the story collections Tales of Pirx the Pilot and More Tales of Pirx the Pilot, and the novel Fiasco. The story of Pirx is that of a spaceship cadet, pilot, and captain. In a way, Pirx is as an ordinary 'working man' who unlike traditional heroic space pilots has little if anything heroic about him. He sometimes finds himself in extreme situations, which he overcomes mostly through ordinary common sense and average luck."

I came across a film adaptation of one of my favorite Pirx stories, The Inquest in SearchOhio. What's the story about? I'm going to be lazy again and quote from Amazon:

"A major corporation produces human-like robots; however, the public opinion, the media and the trade unions oppose it. A decision is made to conduct an experiment. An experienced pilot is to fly a spaceship to Saturn and launch two artificial satellites from there. The crew will be made up of androids, and the commander must evaluate the work of his unusual team. To accomplish the flight, pilot Pirx is chosen, who is known for his honesty and integrity. His ill wishers from the corporation are afraid that Pirx's opinion might upset the profitable production, so they take measures..."

For a 1970's era Soviet SF film, Pilot Pirx's Inquest isn't bad. The story is certainly strong and the special effects are no worse than, say a typical Doctor Who episode from the same period. You can order a copy from SearchOhio. Of course, nothing beats reading the story, even in translation. It's part of More Tales of Pirx the Pilot. You get get a copy of that from SearchOhio, too.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Running around

My apologies to all of you who follow this blog. Emma and I have been running around during the last few weeks and I haven't had much of a chance to blog. Running around where, you ask? Mostly between Akron and Willoughby, with a few days on the West Coast thrown in for good measure. Now we have about 10 days to prepare for ALA in New Orleans. Our presentation is well on its way to completion (thank goodness for Michele McNeal!) but there's still work to do. Here are a few things I've learned in the last 3 weeks:

1. It's not possible to sleep well on a pile of random pillows instead of a mattress.

2. Raccoons pick the strangest places to expire.

3. Good udon noodles can be found at an airport.

4. Driving a minivan with an automatic transmission can be a thrilling, if unsafe, experience for someone used to a small car with a stick.

5. Zorbx will indeed remove almost any odor (not related to #2 above).

Well, our presentation isn't going to write itself. Time to get back to it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chasing down a proxy error

Ah, the joy of troubleshooting. Just before heading off to San Francisco last month for IUG, I noticed that searches passed to our catalog weren't working in Firefox, Safari, or Chrome. They worked fine in IE, but in the other browsers we got a proxy error. I didn't have any time to chase after this bug until this past week. It's not fixed yet, but we (and when I say "we" I mean MPL's network consultant and Pandorabots) are narrowing down where the problem isn't. Next step is to look at our webpac server logs. A ticket's been opened with Innovative. This really needs to get resolved before ALA in June.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Acronyms yes, Estonian no.

O.K. Emma will learn some of the more common text message acronyms or chat shorthand or whatever the proper term is for these things. It's on the list. Should be fairly easy. I'll dump some pages from netlingo.com into pandorawriter and let it generate the code. Piece of cake. I will not, however, program her to speak Estonian. Stop asking and just forget it. If you want a cartoon cat that answers questions about an Ohio public library in Estonian, I really can't help you. I suggest you make your own bot to answer questions about an Estonian public library, instead. You could make it something other than a cat. Maybe a talking pineapple or a set of allen wrenches. The wrenches could move around and form the answers. Very cute, people would love it! There. A great idea to keep you occupied. Let me know when it's finished. Michele and I have six weeks to prepare for ALA and plenty of work to do. In English.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Report from Philadelphia

Chatbots 3.1 was something. Ten excellent presentations on a wide array of topics. Besides meeting some of the leaders in this field, it was great to hear their thoughts on bot design and function, and to gather ideas for improving our own humble bot. We've already improved the way Emma directs questions to the library catalog and to databases, and that's just the beginning. Plenty more to work on!

I didn't have a chance to look around the city; pretty much flew in, presented, then got ready to leave again. One thing that impressed me was the narrowness of the streets. Everything felt confined. My flight home was cancelled, so I had to spend an extra night at the hotel. Didn't get to sleep until around 2 a.m. because of the noise, even on the 8th floor.

The whole conference was recorded, so stay tuned for links to YouTube.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I left rain in Cleveland and am here in Philiadelphia waiting for it to catch up. A very uneventful flight. No horizon, no sense of motion; surrounded by whiteness, the eternal present. It made me think of Emma's "binary abyss." If you ask her about her real form, she'll tell you that she inhabits the binary abyss. Sometime she calls it the digital void. I was probably thinking about Messiaen's "Abîme des oiseaux."

A rainy evening in City Center. Chatbots 3.1 is tomorrow. Tired, but feeling well prepared and confident. I was up until 4:00 am this morning rewriting her searchguided.aiml file. That's the one that directs questions to our catalog or to other databases. Definitely improved; not where it needs to be yet, but it's better. Time to hit the sack.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Mentor Channel's "Around Town" covers Emma

There's a very nice piece about our cybernetic cat in the April 18 edition of Around Town. (We couldn't bring in the real Emma due to scheduling difficulties. Barb Hauer, MPL's Collection and Technical Services Manager, let us use her cat Chloe as a stand in. Chloe is an awesome cat!)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Udon and eel

A few days ago, I was eating Udon noodles and eel at Mifune in San Francisco's Japantown. Today, I'm back in Northeastern Ohio eating some aging yet spry dried figs. Hmmm...Mendelssohn anyone?

"Elijah! Get thee hence, Elijah! Depart and turn thee eastward:
Thither hide thee by Cherith’s brook."

Emma generated a good deal of interest at IUG. No one was indifferent; some librarians were enthusiastic, some were frightened. We heard about another very interesting AI project being developed by the University of Nebraska's Library. Very similar to Emma, but without the avatar. Pretty soon, she and her offspring will be everywhere.

A few days off, then I'm heading to Philadelphia for Chatbots 3.1. Do they have udon in Philly? We'll see.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Chatbots 3.1

Who: Bot creators, commercial users, enthusiasts, scientists, students, and the press are invited.
What: Chatbots 3.1 Conference
When: Saturday, April 23, 2011
Where: Suite 3200 (32nd Floor) Two Liberty Place, 50 S. 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102
Why: Chatbots have been adapted to nearly every ecological niche on the internet. Bots appear on web pages, in instant messaging, and respond to email and forum posts. They can be found in Second Life, in online games, and in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Bots support marketing and advertising and are used in education. This conference brings together leading experts to discuss their ideas and present the latest technologies and trends in chatbots.


David Newyear - Mentor Public Library - The Cat who Sat Down at the Reference Desk
Robert Medeksza - Zabaware - Ultra HAL Technology in Social Networks
Francis Taney - Buchanan Ingersoll - Legal and IP Issues for Botmasters
Dr. Richard Wallace - Pandorabots - Creating AIML bots that speak and hear
Charles Wooters, Ph.D - NextIT - TBD
Dr. Hugh Loebner - Crown Industries - A.I. and The Future of Society
John McIntire - Warfighter Interface Division, 711th Human Performance Wing, Air Force Research Laboratory - Spotting a bot: Active and passive methods of chatbot detection
John Zakos - MyCyberTwin - The Role of Chat Bots in Social Media
Adeena Mignogna - Riot Software - TBD (tentative)
Rollo Carpenter - Existor - TBD
Jeff Remy - VirtuOz - TBD

Follow this link to register!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Emma hits the road!

Emma's going to hit the road next month. OK, I'm going along and so is Michele McNeal. First stop will be San Francisco where she'll appear at the Innovative Users Group 2011 Conference. Will she favor the audience with some of her cowboy poetry? We'll see. This conference draws librarians from across the U.S. They ought to have some appreciation for her evocative and powerful images of the West.

Next stop will be Philadelphia for Chatbots 3.1 Conference. As a humble librarian, I'm a bit nervous. Emma's going to meet Dr. Richard Wallace and some of the other heavy hitters of the chatbot and AI world. She'll have to be on her best behavior and so will I. We're calling the presentation "The Cat who sat down at the Reference Desk (with apologies to Lilian Braun)" Not sure if I like this title, but that's what it's about, how we ended up with an AI cat at our ref desk. Well, there's time to think about it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Emma the Cowbot Poet

Here's another:

Campfire ashes.
Pa wouldn't a cared,
Ma's long gone and buried.
Keep ridin' keep ridin' to whiskey!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Emma's writing "Cowboy Poetry"

Maybe winter's gone on just a little too long, or maybe I've made that drive to MPL one too many times. With all the fuss about "Cowboy Poetry" over the last few days, I decided to program Emma to write it. And you know, she's not bad. A sample:

Wind's cuttin'
Pa wouldn't a cared
two markers on the hill
nothin but ashes.

Her randomly generated poems have been programmed to be full of hopelessness, despair, and loss. The results are quite interesting. Besides being fun, this is a good way to learn and to experiment with some more advanced ways of writing .aiml. (More advanced for me, that is.)

Stay tuned for updates. She might be writing "Pirate Poetry" next.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The word of the day: backup.

You can read it, I can read it, but usually the only way one learns is through experience. We lost all of Emma's .html this afternoon. (Those are the files that make her appear on our website and online catalog. They aren't part of her "brain.") So the fun began. I knew I had copies somewhere. On my laptop? No. On one of the big external drives at home? Nope. On, let's see, one of the six or seven flash drives wandering around the house? No, Un uh, nothing, not here, zip, zero, oh here they are! Lesson learned. (I really hate being organized.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

So long kittenhood...

We've been working on licensing Emma for the last few weeks. (I mean the parts of her code that I wrote, the parts that deal specifically with our library.) Not a lot of fun. To be honest, this was the first time I felt depressed or pessimistic about the whole project. Most librarians don't deal with this sort of thing; certainly not ex-brass players currently working as librarians. Anyway, we're done and she'll be licensed in a way that should be a "win-win" for everyone involved. This seems an appropriate place to mark the end of her "kittenhood." To celebrate, I'm going to get a good night's sleep.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Robot hummingbird passes flight tests - too cool!

My wife spotted this in the news, it's on both our Christmas lists.

"A prototype robot spy "ornithopter," the Nano-Hummingbird, has successfully completed flight trials in California. Developed by the company AeroVironment Inc., the miniature spybot looks like a hummingbird complete with flapping wings, and is only slightly larger and heavier than most hummingbirds, but smaller than the largest species."

Check out the video!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Emma wins 2011 Polaris Innovation in Technology John Iliff Award!

Wow! I'm speechless!

From the ALA website:

"The Polaris Innovation in Technology John Iliff Award honors the life and accomplishments of John Iliff, early adopter and champion of technology in public libraries. This award provides a $1,000 honorarium to a library professional or library that has used technology and innovation as a tool to improve services to public library users. David Newyear, adult information services manager of the Mentor (Ohio) Public Library is receiving the award for the creation of “Emma” the Catbot, an engaging artificially intelligent cat that engages library users and provides basic reference services."

After some discussion with Emma and with my wife Kristina, we've decided to donate the honorarium to One of a Kind Pets in Akron, a worthy cause.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A fun Sunday evening

The non-virtual cats and I have been having a fun Sunday evening. Our hot water tank is in its last stages and is leaking all over the downstairs. Since it's hooked into our geothermal, I don't want to just shut it off or close the valves. At least not until tomorrow morning after I call the guys that installed the water furnace. Anyway, cats and human alike are making regular trips to mop and replace soggy newspapers. The cats find this a welcome change from their routine and an occasion for wonder and delight. Water! But it's not in the dish or sink or shower! Can we play it in? Yes! Can we chase each other through it? Yes!! Can we leave trails of wet paw prints on every flat surface in the house? YES!!!
Between trips, I've been going over the logs and updating the old catbot brain. Last week MPL got a new Kent-SLIS practicum student, Amanda S. One of her projects is working on Emma, and she has some excellent ideas that we're already using. She's looking at Emma with fresh eyes and will make some real improvements in our bot.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Looks like the computer won

Yep, Watson won. Here's the story and some video:
IBM's Super Computer, Watson, Destroys Humans...At Jeopardy

Emma isn't interested in going on Jeopardy, by the way. She's a working library catbot. And I only have so much free time (meaning unpaid, off the library's clock) to program her.

IBM’s Watson AI takes on Jeopardy’s best contestants

Pretty cool! AI challenges the best human Jeopardy contestants:

Who will win?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nice Article in MentorPatch

I'd like to thank Jason Lea at MentorPatch for the nice article about Emma.
You can read it here.

It's lovely in the virtual Bahamas

Emma will return to our website on Monday, January 17. During this time we're reprogramming the way she interacts with our catalog and with other databases. She's having fun eating virtual sushi on her virtual vacation.