Cardiff University computer scientists develop advanced digital assistant

Computer scientists at Cardiff University have developed a digital assistant capable of helping people communicate more effectively.

Sherlock, which has been unveiled by the university’s school of computer science and informatics, can be harnessed by people in situations such as emergencies and festivals.

The mobile and tablet PC assistant allows users to ask questions and receive quick responses – like Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana – although the university says the fact it sports “controlled natural language” makes it different.

This, the university explains, enables Sherlock and its users to understand one another – with it being “able to act on information it’s given in a robust way”.

Users can tell it things to store within a “local knowledge base” for it to remember, allowing it to workout new information and take actions in relevant contexts.

For example, you could own a smart-home and tell Sherlock you’re feeling cold. It’d then adjust the heating or suggest that you close any open windows.

You can also use it to collect and process ‘crowdsourced’ information. If you’re at a festival and want something to eat, Sherlock can let you know where the busiest and quietest food areas are.

And in an emergency, it can help medical teams get to people needing aid, simply by making use of eyewitness reports.

Professor Alun Preece, from the university’s school of computer science & informatics, said: “People like to communicate with computers using natural languages like English, which are hard for computers to understand and process”.

“Sherlock can therefore be used to help people communicate more effectively with computerised systems.”

“We believe we’re unique in putting ‘controlled natural language’ technology literally in people’s hands – and, with the Apple Watch app, on their wrists – with the aim of enabling better human-machine understanding and collaboration.”

Image credit: Kārlis Dambrāns