Professor Yorick Wilks

 Professor Yorick Wilks

Yorick Wilks has interests in artificial intelligence and the computer processing of language, knowledge and belief. His current research focuses on the possibility of software agents having identifiable personalities.


Yorick Wilks is a Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Sheffield. He received his MA and PhD (1968) from Pembroke College, Cambridge. He has also taught or researched at Stanford, Edinburgh, Geneva, Essex and New Mexico State Universities. His interests are artificial intelligence and the computer processing of language, knowledge and belief, especially as applied to the future of the Internet: the Semantic Web and the possibility of Companion-like interfaces.

His recent books include: Natural language Processing and the Semantic Web (with Christopher Brewster, Now Books, 2009), Machine Translation - how far can it go (Springer, 2009), Artificial Believers (Erlbaum 1991), Electric Words (MIT, 1996) and Machine Conversations (Kluwer, 2001), and a new edited volume in 2009 from John Benjamins is: 'Artificial Companions in Society: scientific, economic, psychological and philosophical perspectives'. He is a Research Fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies.

See the initial Companions demonstrators.

Research interests

artificial companions, Semantic Web, artificial intelligence, computer processing of language, knowledge and belief

Positions held at the OII

  • Research Associate, November 2010 -
  • Senior Research Fellow, January 2007 - October 2010
  • Visiting Professor, October 2006 - January 2007
  • Research Associate, March - October 2006
  • Visitor, October 2005 - February 2006
  • Visiting Fellow, September 2003 - February 2004


Past projects

  • The Learning Companion: an embodied conversational agent for learning

    August 2008 - July 2013

    The Learning Companion project aims to evaluate the feasibility of a computer-based digital tool to help adults whose engagement with learning is tentative or hard to sustain make productive use of the Internet for achieving their own learning projects.

  • Networks for Web Science

    October 2007 - April 2009

    Establishing networks of researchers from different technical and social science research disciplines to begin to develop a Web Science research agenda through the exchange of PhD students and collaborative workshops.

  • Companions: Intelligent, Persistent, Personalised Multimodal Interfaces to the Internet

    November 2006 - October 2010

    This project developed a virtual conversational 'Companion': an agent that stays with the user for long periods of time, develops a relationship and 'knows' its owner's preferences and wishes, communicating primarily by using and understanding speech.





Conference papers


  • Huang, F. and Wilks, Y. (2007) Clustered sub-matrix singular value decomposition. NAACL/HLT 2007.


  • Turunen, M., Hakulinen, J., Kainulainen, A., Catizone, R., Pinto, H., Gorrell, G., Wilks, Y., Stahl, O., Tabutiaux, B., Rodriguez Gancedo, M.C., Cavazza, M., Danieli, M. and Pele, D. (2008) An Initial Prototype COMPANION. Deliverable D1.1.3 for the EC 6FP IST Companions Project (IST-34434).
  • Boye, J., Catizone, R., Gorrell, G., Pinto, H., Wilks, Y. and Wiren, M. (2007) Base Dialogue model structure based on state-of-the-art. Deliverable D3.1.1 for the EC 6FP IST Companions Project (IST-34434).

Working papers


  • Virtual Student Open Day 2010

    Virtual Student Open Day 2010

    Recorded on: 7 December 2010 Duration: 00:59:58

    A recording of our first 'virtual open day', with the OII Director of Graduate Studies, the OII MSc course convenor, and a student representative answering questions submitted online about our Graduate Studies programme.

  • Society and the Internet Series. 8: Ethical Issues on, in and of the Internet

    Society and the Internet Series. 8: Ethical Issues on, in and of the Internet

    Recorded on: 29 November 2010 Duration: 00:02:27

    Yorick Wilks discusses the main themes of his lecture in the OII's "Society and the Internet" lecture series: how do we identify, articulate and deliberate about the ethical issues present in the Internet?

  • What Will A Companionable Computational Agent Be Like? (Lovelace Lecture 2010)

    What Will A Companionable Computational Agent Be Like? (Lovelace Lecture 2010)

    Recorded on: 12 July 2010 Duration: 01:01:47

    Yorick Wilks explores the state of the art in modelling realistic conversation with computers over the last 40 years, and asks what we would want in a conversational agent (or 'Companion') designed for a long-term relationship with a user.

  • Moments in History of Language on Computers

    Moments in History of Language on Computers

    Recorded on: 18 June 2009 Duration: 01:03:35

    Martin Kay produced three of the key advances in language and computation over a long 50 years career: he discusses these in an interview, along with anecdotes that give a historical content for that seminal work.

  • The Companions Project: Introduction

    The Companions Project: Introduction

    Recorded on: 16 November 2006 Duration: 00:32:34

    The Companion is a persistent conversational agent that appears to learn a person's tastes and habits, and carries out activities within their digital space on the Internet, such as organising image and text records as a coherent life narrative.




    Yorick Wilks on 17 Oct 2011 16:22PM

    As the euro staggers, it may seem bad taste to examine the possibilities for yet another created or artificial currency. But the bitcoin* is worth a quick look because it makes us think again about the nature of currency and what value consists in. We all [...]

  • The future of juries and the Internet

    Yorick Wilks on 6 Dec 2010 16:31PM

    A new area in which the Internet may disrupt established social practices and rituals is the British jury system. Juries have always been sequestered to some degree, not normally in the US sense of isolation in hotels for long periods away from television [...]

  • Germany out ahead again

    Yorick Wilks on 23 Aug 2010 16:56PM

    The news that the new (compulsory) German ID card will be RFID equipped (International Business Times 21 August: is a step change towards John McCarthy [...]

  • Gordon Brown announces Web Science Institute

    Yorick Wilks on 22 Mar 2010 12:01PM

    The Prime Minister today announced ( a new Web Science Institute with a commitment of £30m of Government money, and headed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt of the OII Advisory Board. This presumably means TBL is [...]

  • The Internet and the Mob

    Yorick Wilks on 24 Feb 2010 15:41PM

    As a professional technophile, I have always dismissed outbursts of anti-technology feeling as agreeably retro but harmless, like the effusions of those who still write real letters on paper and tell us all so. I have begun to question my stance only [...]

  • Life after web suicide?

    Yorick Wilks on 27 Jan 2010 19:47PM

    In many jurisdictions, such as the UK, you are free to kill yourself (without prosecution if you survive unexpectedly!) but not to help others commit suicide. This may well be a wise position, and the distinction seems to be reemerging on the social web. [...]

  • Flash posses?

    Yorick Wilks on 30 Nov 2009 06:21AM

    At the Web Science Trust meeting in Boston last week—a trust in which he OII is a partner site—the Chinese site (at ShenZen) described an interesting novel phenomenon on the Internet they are investigating that might call a Flash Posse (as opposed to a [...]

  • Facebook after death!

    Yorick Wilks on 29 Oct 2009 16:50PM

    Facebook has decided to treat the dead differently at last, so breaking through the old problem that, just as on the web you couldnt tell someone was a dog–as in the famous New Yorker cartoon–similarly you couldnt tell they were dead. Facebook [...]

  • European Forum at Alpbach

    Yorick Wilks on 1 Sep 2009 15:26PM

    Bill Dutton talking to the Forum’s news unit is at

  • Towards virtuous spamming?

    Yorick Wilks on 15 Aug 2009 12:21PM

    Today’s papers report a new method being trialed from the US to get news into countries with heavily censored Internet access such as China and Iran. (see: [...]

  • Google and our health records

    Yorick Wilks on 10 Jul 2009 16:01PM

    Recent proposals to consider Google or Microsoft as possible holders of citizens’ health records produced a predictable range of comments in the Times blog: from “yes, yes, anything to get away from another centralized state database” to [...]

  • Is your self-naming right secure?

    Yorick Wilks on 1 May 2009 13:49PM

    The Guardian last leader yesterday told of a woman—-who started as Eileen de Bont (!)—-and who changed her name to Pudsey Bear to raise money for charity. Later the Identity and Passport Agency (did you know it had changed its name—and [...]

  • Interesting new take on user-generated activity from China

    Yorick Wilks on 25 Apr 2009 10:36AM

    From Slashdot today: +——————————————————————–+ | Hundreds of Thousands of Chinese Black-Hats [...]

  • Machines Designed to Change Humans

    Companions on 9 Mar 2009 13:54PM The Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab creates insight into how computing products — from websites to mobile phone software — can be designed to change what people believe and what they do. Yes, this can be a scary topic: [...]

  • Ray Kurzweil’s “Age of Spritual Machines” 1999

    Companions on 26 Feb 2009 13:55PM

    Ten years on here are two of his Predictions for 2019 (we’re half way)!!!! *People communicate with their computers via two-way speech and gestures instead of with keyboards. Furthermore, most of this interaction occurs through computerized [...]

  • Primitive health conversations daily with the elderly help them take their medicines

    Companions on 15 Feb 2009 13:50PM

    (send my Bob Amsler, MITRE Corp.—–thanks to him) The New York Times, Feb. 12th, 2009 Sensors Help Keep the Elderly at Home Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times Joseph Hayduk, 86, who suffers from congestive heart failure, transmits his [...]

  • Sheffield Professor argues against Companions

    Companions on 19 Dec 2008 08:59AM

    Noel Sharkey, Computer Science professor at the University of Sheffield, argues in Science that prolonged exposure to care robots will be dangerous: “These robots can help the elderly to maintain independence in their own homes, but their presence [...]

  • t*mobile: Oxford company using mobile phones for health monitoring

    Companions on 16 Dec 2008 11:04AM Professor Tarassenko’s company takes health data keyed by patients to a health monitoring centre.

  • Slashdot reports robot wife from Vietnam

    Companions on 15 Dec 2008 12:23PM

    Inventor Builds Robot Wife                                         | |   from the you-lonely-lonely-man dept.                             | |   posted by samzenpus on Thursday December 11, @02:37 (Robotics)   | | [...]

  • Our Governing Council man (David Levy) in the Guardian

    Companions on 15 Dec 2008 12:21PM

    Just as we depend on mobile phones and cars in our daily lives today, the next 15 years will see mass hybridisation between humans and robots,” says Antonio Lopez Pelaez, a professor of sociology at Spain’s National Distance Learning [...]