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

Current projects

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Modernizing and Inspiring a “Startup Mentality” in Legacy Information Technology Organizations

    19 June 2014 - 19 June 2014, 16:00:00 - 17:00:00

    Dr. David Bray will discuss the opportunities and challenges with inspiring a “startup mentality” in legacy information technology organizations.

  • How Do Security Analysts Understand Metaphor in Web Documents?

    15 May 2013 - 15 May 2013, 13:00:00 - 14:00:00

    Summary to follow.

  • The Internet, Web, and Beyond (Society and the Internet Lecture Series, Part 15)

    28 February 2012 - 28 February 2012, 16:00:00 - 17:30:00

    Drawing examples from science and government, this talk will demonstrate the advantages and dangers of a more 'intelligent' Semantic Web.

  • Ethics and the Internet

    20 April 2011 - 20 April 2011, 09:30:00 - 17:00:00

    This one-day seminar features invited speakers on topics focused on ethical issues concerning the Internet, its design and deployment as well as in human behaviour when using it.

  • Undergraduate Lecture Series (M8): Ethical Issues on, in and of the Internet

    29 November 2010 - 29 November 2010, 16:00:00 - 17:30:00

    The influence of the Internet's instant communication, information and gratification is everywhere, but its ethical implications have not yet been drawn out. How do we identify, articulate and deliberate about the ethical issues present in the Internet?

  • Oxford Lecture: What Will A Companionable Internet Agent Be Like?

    12 July 2010 - 12 July 2010, 17:00:00 - 18:30:00

    Yorick Wilks, winner of the Lovelace medal 2010, discusses Companion-like interfaces. What should a Companion know? How can it gain and use the knowledge? What are the social implications? What will happen to their unique knowledge of us when we die?

  • Lovelace lecture 2010: What Will A Companionable Computational Agent Be Like?

    7 July 2010 - 7 July 2010, 18:30:00 - 21:00:00

    Yorick Wilks, winner of the Lovelace medal, will give the 2010 Lovelace Lecture on the future of the Internet: the Semantic Web and the possibility of Companion-like interfaces.

  • Internet Ethics Seminar

    30 April 2010 - 30 April 2010, 09:00:00 - 17:00:00

    This seminar aims to contribute to the scope and agenda of Internet Ethics at a time when it is emerging as a research subject. We aim to identify, articulate and deliberate about the ethical issues present in the technology and for its users.

  • Learning Companions and Pedagogical Agents: Future Trends and Possibilities

    28 May 2009 - 28 May 2009, 09:30:00 - 17:00:00

    A workshop that brings togather social scientists and computer scientists to discuss the possibilities for companions and pedagogical agents to enhance learning and education, both now and in the future.

  • Search!

    24 June 2008 - 24 June 2008, 10:00:00 - 15:00:00

    A workshop discussing the past, present and future of searching for information and content. Social science and technological approaches are used to look at this topic from the perspective of both the producers and the users of searchable content.

  • The Science of the Web

    15 March 2006 - 15 March 2006, 09:00:00 - 12:30:00

    Summary to come.

  • Digital Archiving of Research at the University of Oxford

    10 June 2005 - 10 June 2005, 09:00:00 - 16:00:00

    This workshop discusses issues facing approaches to archiving digital content over the coming decade, while focusing on a proposal for an institutional digital repository for research reports.

  • Whom does the Internet Need More: Computer Scientists or Social Scientists?

    30 January 2004 - 30 January 2004, 12:30:00 - 14:00:00

    This seminar addresses the perception of a supposed divide between social scientific and computer science approaches to study of the Internet. It asks what each has to offer, and to what extent a more collaborative vision is appropriate and possible.