servants, The Guardian
Domestic robots that can speak, recognise their owners' faces and understand
spoken instructions will soon be bustling around homes all over the world.
Manufacturers in Japan are preparing to launch a new generation of robots that
go far beyond today's autonomous vacuum cleaners and "mowbots" - self-guided
lawn mowers - and closely resemble the sorts of machines predicted in 1950s
sci-fi films. Sales of domestic robots are set to explode, with the UN's World
Robotics 2003 survey predicting a tenfold increase in the next three years
But anyone hoping to hand over the cleaning to a mechanical servant is likely to
be disappointed: the domestic robots that will appear shortly are information
assistants. Their tasks will be searching databases rather than doing the
The reason? When robots were first envisaged, it was assumed that constructing
the moving parts of a robot would be easy, while the hard part would be building
an artificial "brain". But the computers used to control today's robots are
cheap, commodity items - building actuators, such as sensitive robotic fingers,
is what is expensive. "Robots have to be able to do something useful if they are
to be of any value to society, and it's turned out to be much cheaper to get
robots to collect or send information than it is to get them to manipulate their
environment," says Professor Huosheng Hu, a robotics expert at the University of
But Hu says robots that can speak and understand spoken commands will still be
built to resemble people, even if they can't use their limbs. "If you want a
robot to be accepted by society, it must look intelligent. If it's just a lump
of metal, people will feel silly talking to it," he says.
Building Regulations Advisory Committee
Dick Williams, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Computer Science Department at
Essex, spoke at the pre-conference dinner of the Building Regulations Advisory
Committee, at Churchill College, Cambridge on Sunday 5th October. The Committee
intend to investigate using the Internet to make the Building and related
Regulations more easily available to interested parties as part of the
Government’s commitment to expanding access. Dick had been asked to speak on
“The Future of Computing and IT”.
He said that making predictions about the future was difficult and often
dangerous to one's credibility. However Computers will continue to get faster
and more powerful, there will be increased access to the Internet, and it will
become more and more pervasive, and increasingly will be accessed from other
devices besides personal computers. Dick also illustrated some recent exciting
developments in computing, drawing on the work of colleagues at the University
of Essex. He described some of the work concerning areas such as Intelligent
Buildings, Robots and Embedded Devices, Natural Language Processing and Web
Services. In conclusion he outlined some possible ways in which newer Internet
Technologies, like XML and Web Services could be used to help fulfil the goals
of creating searchable and easily maintained access to the extensive information
concerning Building Regulations. Finally Dick wished the Committee a successful,
useful and informative Conference.
Success for Essex in international e-commerce competition
Computer scientists from the University of Essex have once again proved their
software skills by claiming fourth place in an international electronic trading
competition with their trading agent “Thalis”.
The challenge was to create a computer software agent able to trade on behalf of
travel clients in a challenging market game. Their agent had to secure travel
packages which satisfied clients' preferences including flights, hotels and
entertainment tickets, all being auctioned simultaneously in electronic
The International Trading Agent Competition (TAC) was staged in Acapulco, Mexico
as part of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI)
which is the leading event in Artificial Intelligence research. 15 teams from
Europe, Asia and North America participated. It was won by a team from the
University of Texas at Austin in the United States.
The Essex team of Computer Science lecturer Dr Maria Fasli and former MSc
student Nikolaos Poursanidis, working from Greece, competed in the qualifying
and final rounds over the Internet. They successfully devised a strategy for
obtaining the goods they required and for competing against the other agents.
The aim of the competition is to develop software trading agents that can handle
interdependent and substitutable goods, larger numbers of goods and markets, a
wider range of market types, and faster markets than its human counterparts.
Dr Fasli was delighted with the team's fourth place.
"Our continuing success in the competition (they came seventh and third in
the previous two years) is evidence of the high quality of research that is
being conducted in agent technology for e-commerce at Essex' she said. 'This
kind of intelligent technology is a rapidly developing area of e-commerce, with
the potential to be widely deployed to conduct business."
Students are taught this leading-edge technology on the Department of Computer
Science's MSc E-commerce Technology and MSc Computer Science programmes.
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