The Executive Board of Utrecht University has appointed Lynda Hardman to the post of part-time Professor of Multimedia Discourse Interaction at the Faculty of Science’s Department of Information and Computing Sciences. Hardman is also a researcher at the Centrum Wiskunde en Informatica in Amsterdam, and President of the Board of Informatics Europe. Her goal: to create a computer that answers your questions the way you want it to. “Right now, the user has to do all the hard work.”
“When I want to compare publications by my colleagues, I google their CVs. That means: type, read, type, read. But what I really want is a table with an overview of each researcher’s publications”, Hardman cites as an example. “Or an automatic spoken answer when you’re cycling. Or not having to watch a whole documentary if you’re just interested in what one person has to say. In a European project, researchers have even worked on providing answers to questions that viewers might have during a broadcast.”
Computers that understand people
The challenge: computers that understand people. That can understand a question and turn it into information that is needed to give an answer, structures the information and then processes it into a coherent answer. When will we have a computer like that? “In N years, but I don’t know how large N is, exactly”, laughs Hardman.