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


  • Ethical Issues on, in and of the Internet

    Ethical Issues on, in and of the Internet

    Recorded: 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: 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: 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: 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.