MI Banner

22 December 2004
Issued by Electrolux

Artificial intelligence in machines is child’s play

A computer system that teaches itself how to play the child’s game of ‘paper, scissor, stone’ picked up the third annual British Computer Society’s prize for Progress towards Machine Intelligence in Cambridge this week. The CogVis system from the University of Leeds’ Derek Magee and Chris Needham pipped AI guru, Donald Michie and his ‘conversational agent’, SOPHIE to the post, as well as a new model for completely automated air traffic control.

The CogVis system was remarkable for the fact that the computer had not been programmed with the rules of the game in any way. Instead, it ‘observed’ two individuals playing the game on camera, noting visual and verbal responses (including ‘win’ and ‘lose’) and through this observation, taught itself the rules of the game. The computer then watched a live version of the game, pronouncing ‘win’ and ‘lose’ – entirely correctly – on each hand.

Derek Magee, from the CogVis team explained, “A system that can observe events in an unknown scenario, learn and participate just as a child would is almost the holy grail of AI. We may not have solved this challenge quite yet, but we think we’ve made a small dent.” The audience clearly agreed and voted them winners. The prize, sponsored by Electrolux, is annually awarded to anyone from any background who is prepared to demonstrate how they have genuinely moved towards the goal of machine intelligence.

One of the founders of the study of AI and machine intelligence and most certainly its most established leading light, Donald Michie, also participated in this year’s competition. His ‘conversational agent’ is designed to help English language students practice their conversational skills and is being developed in conjunction with Oxford University Press Language Learning Division and features realistic conversational language patterns that interact with the user.

Placed third against this stiff competition was an entry from David Parkinson who demonstrated a new system that he has developed that is designed to completely automate the hugely demanding task of air traffic control. While his system can work independently, he sees it has great potential as a support for controllers, monitoring complex air space activity.

The two remaining finalists both presented evolutions in chatbot technology, building in an emotional element. Phil Hall from private company Elzware showed Yhaken, primarily designed for business applications in consumer oriented service companies looking to improve the quality of their online customer service. His intuitive system aims to help further evolve today’s interactive FAQ services to understand more clearly where the user is coming from, and hence provide a more accurate response. Meanwhile, Jose Lopes demonstrated an interactive video based agent which he and his colleagues at Exeter University see more as a domestic ‘companion’ who will emotionally interact with the user, showing distress or sadness when attention is diverted, and happiness – through smiles – when it is in conversation.

Professor Max Bramer, chair of the competition and of the British Computer Society’s specialist group in Artificial Intelligence, commented, “We had an excellent field of entries this year that give a clue to the huge potential for AI applications in business, leisure and learning. The demonstrations showed clearly that the UK is really taking some serious steps forward both in terms of machine intelligence and how it will be used.”

Entrants are invited to the 2005 progress towards machine intelligence prize. Further information can be found here.

The Finalists

Information about the 2004 entrants.

Notes for editors
Electrolux is the world’s largest producer of powered appliances for kitchen, cleaning and outdoor use, such as refrigerators, washing machines, cookers, vacuum cleaners, chain saws, lawn mowers, and garden tractors. In 2003, Group sales were SEK 124 billion and the Group had 77,000 employees. Every year, customers in more than 150 countries buy more than 55 million Electrolux Group products for both consumer and professional use. The Electrolux Group includes famous appliance brands such as AEG, Electrolux, Zanussi, Frigidaire, Eureka, and Husqvarna.