08 January 2008

Books, metadata and chatbots… in search of the XML Rosetta Stone

I am an author and I build chatbots (aka chatterbots). A chatbot is a conversational agent, driven by a knowledgebase. I am currently trying to understand the best way to convert a book into a chatbot knowledgebase.

A knowledgebase is a form of database, and the chatbot is actually a type of search… an anthropomorphic form of search and therefore an ergonomic form of search. This simple fact is usually shrouded by the jargon of “natural language processing”, which may or may not be actual voice input or output.

According to the ruling precepts of the “Turing test”, chatbots must be as close as possible to conversational, and this is what differentiates them from pure “search”…. With chatbots there is a significant element of “smoke and mirrors” involved, which introduces the human psychological element into the machine in the form of cultural, linguistic and thematic assumptions and expectations, so becoming in a sense a sort of “mind game”.

I’m actually approaching this from two directions. I would also like to be able to feed RSS into a chatbot knowledgebase. There is currently no working example of this available. Parsing RSS into AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language), the most common chatbot dialect, is problematic and yet to be cracked effectively. So, my thinking arrived at somehow breaking a book into a form that resembles RSS. The Wikipedia List of XML markup languages revealed a number of attempts to add metadata to books.

Dr. Wallace, the originator of AIML, recently responded on the pandorabots-general group, that using RSS title fields would usually be too specific to make them useful as chatbot concept triggers. However, I believe utilities such as the Yahoo! Term Extraction API could be used to create tags for feed items, which might then prove more useful when mapped to AIML patterns….

My supposition is that a *good* book index is in effect a “taxonomy” of that book. Paragraphs would generally be too large to meet the specialized “conversational” needs of a chatbot. The results of a conventional concordance would be too general to be useful in a chatbot…. If RSS as we know it is currently too specific to function effectively in a chatbot, what if that index were mapped back to the referring sentences as “tags”, somewhat like RSS?

I figure that if you can relatively quickly break a book down into a sentence “concordance”, you could then point that at something like the Yahoo! Term Extraction API to quickly generate relevant keywords (or “tags”) for each sentence, which could then be used in AIML as triggers for those sentences in a chatbot…. Is there such a beast as a “sentence parser” for a corpus such as a common book? All I want to do at this point is strip out all the sentences and line them up, as a conventional concordance does with individual words.

There are a number of examples of desktop chatbots using proprietary Windows speech recognition today, however to my knowledge there are currently no chatbots available online or via VoIP that accept voice input (*not* IM or IRC bots)…. So, I’ve also spent some time lately looking into voiceXML (VXML), ccXML and the Voxeo callXML, as well as the Speech Recognition Grammar Specification (SRGS) and the mythical voice browser…. The only thing I could find that actually accepts voice input online for processing is Midomi.com, which accepts voice input in the form of hummed tune for tune recognition…. Apparently goog411, which is basically interactive voice response (IVR) rather than true speech recognition, is as close as it gets to a practical hybrid online/offline voice search application at this time. So, what if Google could talk?


Greg said...

Dr. Wallace -- apparently Dr. Richard Wallace? -- in the days before online search engines it would be difficult to identify who and where he was. so a footnote or other biography would be nice: http://www.alicebot.org/articles/ -- GregM - Minnesota

mpalmerlee said...

This is a great blog! Thanks Marcus for the information, I am very interested in your ideas of converting a book to Knowledge, maybe we can exchange ideas on some of your topics.

-Matt Palmerlee