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 – November 2019
  • 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

    Participants: Professor Rebecca Eynon, Professor Yorick Wilks, Dr Chris Davies

    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.

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

    Participants: Professor Yorick Wilks

    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.

  • Networks for Web Science

    Participants: Professor William H. Dutton, Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Professor Yorick Wilks, Tim Berners-Lee, Professor Wendy Hall

    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.


  • 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)

    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

    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

    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.