Tom Williams
Ph.D. Candidate
Computer Science and Cognitive Science Program
Tufts University

Genuine Helpers: Enabling natural language capabilities for interactive robots

Monday, February 13, 4:00 PM
Packard Lab room 466

Abstract:  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, and to better infer those conversational partners’ intentions, 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.

Bio:   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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