February 10, 2017: Seminar - Tom Williams: "Genuine Helpers: Enabling natural language capabilities for assistive robots"


Genuine Helpers: Enabling natural language capabilities for assistive robots

Tom Williams
Tufts University
February 10, 2017
11:00 a.m., Room 1000 SEO


Natural language understanding and generation capabilities are crucial for natural human-like human robot interactions. This is especially true in domains such as eldercare, education, space, and search-and-rescue robotics, in which alternate interfaces or interaction techniques may be difficult for users to use due to cognitive or physical limitations. Approximately 40% of wheelchair users, for example, find it difficult or impossible to use a standard joystick, making natural language an attractive modality for interaction and control.

My research investigates how intelligent robots can communicate through natural language in realistic human-robot interaction scenarios, in which knowledge is uncertain, incomplete, and decentralized. To do so, I draw on techniques and concepts from artificial intelligence, psychology, linguistics, and philosophy, and engage in both algorithm development and empirical experimentation.

In my talk, I will present a set of cognitively inspired algorithms I have developed to allow robots to better identify the entities (e.g., objects, people, and locations) referenced in natural language by their human conversational partners in uncertain and open worlds. I will then discuss how these algorithms have been implemented on a robotic wheelchair in order to significantly extend the state of the art of natural language enabled robot wheelchairs.


Tom Williams is a PhD candidate in the joint Computer Science and Cognitive Science program at Tufts University, where he teaches Artificial Intelligence. Tom?s research focuses on enabling and understanding natural language based human-robot interaction, especially as applied to assistive and search-and-rescue robotics, and has been published in top artificial intelligence, robotics, and cognitive science venues. Tom has been named an HRI Pioneer, served as a visiting researcher at the Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Bremen, Germany, and has co-organized several international workshops on human-robot interaction.

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