AIAI Projects and Applications

Intelligent Documents

Motivation | Layout | Styles | Navigation | Authoring | Text Generation | Presentation | Task Support

The Need For Intelligent Documents

The increasing need to provide help to people in making sense of the vast amount of information available to us is widely recognised. Intelligent documents - documents which provide intelligent support for readers and providers of information - can enable users to navigate effectively through vast quantities of information. The presentation of information can be customised in the context of the requirements of the reader or the information provider. The use of knowledge-based techniques in the production of documentation can help to ensure consistency and to improve quality.

Work in intelligent documents within the AI community at Edinburgh is concentrated in the Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute (AIAI) and the Natural Language Processing (NLP) group in the Department of AI. Close links are maintained with other groups within the Department of AI, including the Software Systems and Processes Group, and with researchers in the Centre for Cognitive Science and Human Communications Research Centre, particularly the Language Technology Group. There are over 50 researchers within the Edinburgh AI/Cognitive Science community working in areas relevant to intelligent documentation.

Knowledge-Based Layout

Formation, AIAI's knowledge-based layout system, was commissioned originally by Pindar for use in production of British Telecom's Yellow Pages directories. Designed to be extensible to other layout requirements, Formation is based on an interpreter for the Layout Style Specification Language (LSSL), a domain-specific language developed at AIAI for expressing layout style requirements. The emphasis is on carrying out correctly the layout procedures which have been specified, rather then using constraint-based techniques to search for an optimal solution. The Formation GUI offers dialog-based modification and reconfiguration of styles.

Formation was delivered to Pindar ready for full production use for BT Yellow Pages in late 1996. Planned future development includes the creation of styles for laying out different types of document, e.g. catalogues, newspapers, brochures, and the development of new features which enable Formation to create single-page documents such as advertisements, based on the user's requirements for content and look and feel.

Further Information: formation

Support For House Styles

AIAI worked with Aldus Europe for two years from 1990 to 1992 on the Paradigm project. Paradigm aimed to develop functionality for the Pagemaker product which would assist users in creating well-designed PageMaker templates for business documents by interacting with an expert system driven by a set of document design rules. The functionality envisaged was vaguely similar to that provided by the autocontent wizard found on today's Microsoft PowerPoint product. AIAI was involved in performing the initial feasibility study for the concept and then in providing consultancy to the main project.

Navigating Through Technical Documentation

Highly technical documents, such as regulations, can be difficult to navigate. For example, it can be very difficult for someone unfamiliar with the Building Standards Regulations for Scotland, having found the relevant sections for a particular building project, to use them in a correct, logical and efficient sequence. Designed originally to support the work of the Building Directorate at the Scottish Office through making the regulations and their associated Technical Standards more navigable, PLINTH supports authors and readers of technical documents.

PLINTH allows authors to construct semantically augmented hypertext networks for documents and their associated design rationales, and to write intelligent navigation and consultation rules. It assists the reader to display different structural, logical and rhetorical views of a document; to explore the design rationale behind a document to understand its purpose; and to browse and consult documents aided by the intelligent navigation rules supplied by the authors. In this way, PLINTH demonstrates that semantic tagging can be used to provide different perspectives on the same information, and to control the order in which it is presented to the user.

Further Information: PLINTH

Language-Neutral Text Generation

The NLP group and AIAI supported the Military Aircraft Division of British Aerospace Defence Limited on a research and development project called GhostWriter. Its primary objective was to describe, develop and demonstrate a prototypical authoring environment which would illustrate the kinds of proactive support required by authors of technical publications. From a business perspective, GhostWriter had to demonstrate ways in which the production of technical documents could be made more efficient and reliable.

The cornerstone of the GhostWriter environment was the provision of meaningful assistance for an author to affect the composition of a knowledge-based model of a plan of actions in a language-neutral form, such that this could be used as the common basis for generating instructional texts in different languages. Using this approach, British Aerospace could avoid the necessity of translating a text from one language into another.

The prototype has been used to show the interactive and semi-automatic production of a significant portion of a complex maintenance procedure to perform a functional test of the main hydraulic power supply system of the Falcon 900 aircraft.

Further Information: Ghostwriter

Generating Technical Documents

In the IDAS project, the NLP group investigated how natural language generation and hypertext techniques can be used in a novel way to produce technical documentation. In IDAS, text is derived from a single non-textual documentation database, rather than text being itself the primary representation used. This makes documentation adaptable and reusable, avoiding some of the problems with traditional technical documentation. The initial IDAS prototypes were for users of Automatic Test Equipment. Work in this area, in collaboration with the University of Sussex, Racal Research and Racal Instruments, has continued with the CORECT project.

CORECT is a system to help in the design of an electronic system in response to a call for tenders from a customer. The goal of CORECT is to produce tools to assist the marketing and definition of complex systems by allowing guided but free-format entry of requirement facts, collating and checking consistency, tracking correlation of implementation proposals and aiding the communication between parties co-operating in this process. The role of the University of Edinburgh is mainly to implement the generation of documents for the different types of people involved in the design process. An interesting theoretical issue that arises here is whether (and how) it is possible to allow users to specify their own document requirements (in terms of form and content).

Racal will use the CORECT tool to support all aspects of their business, beginning with the marketing side. Requirements capture is a generic problem, and the CORECT approach will be generalisable to other application domains. Racal in collaboration with the other project partners will undertake this generalisation and technology transfer to other Racal companies, to ensure that the CORECT tool will be usable across the whole range of complex electronic products & systems.

Further Information: CORECT

Customising Presentation Of Information

The ILEX project, an EPSRC-funded project involving the Natural Language Processing Group within the Department of AI and the Language Technology Group at the Human Communication Research Centre, seeks to generate labels for items in an electronic catalogue in such a way as to reflect the interest of the user, while opportunistically furthering the aims of the information provider (e.g. education). The project collaborators include the National Museums of Scotland, and ILEX development is currently aimed at providing an electronic tour round the gallery of 20th Century Jewellery at the National Museum of Scotland.

ILEX focuses on automatic text generation. The ILEX team want to consider the viewer's (or reader's) level of expertise, to take into account the discourse history, to enable the use of comparisons etc. with objects seen previously and to allow the viewer freedom in choosing the order in which objects are seen. The system is to have its own agenda of educational goals, which it must realise by talking about the objects in the tour; its behaviour will be similar to the opportunistic education strategies used by a teacher or tour guide.

Further Information: ILEX

Support For Task Management

There is increasing demand for personalised and customised services. Together with the increasing variety of printing technologies and the increased availability of new publishing media, this has resulted in widespread interest within the printing and publishing industries in tools and techniques which support their production processes.

AIAI is interested in documents that can actively support the "reader" or "user" in carrying out their task. The aim is to allow documents to be created from underlying models with tailoring to the needs to the user/reader in support of the task they are carrying out. The GhostWriter project made a good start with this type of support. AIAI is interested in the type of systems that can create text, procedures, checklists, images and graphics, and present them for viewing in an appropriate way for the user taking into account their skill level, access to information technology and working environment. This type of system would support the work of the user/reader in carrying out the task they have in hand. Presenting appropriate material very specific to the task.

AIAI led the DTI flagship project Enterprise, which aimed at providing a method and computer toolset to help in capturing and analysing aspects of a business, using these to identify and compare options for meeting business requirements, and to support their business processes. Underlying the development of the Enterprise Tool Set is the Enterprise Ontology, a technology of terms and definitions relevant to business enterprises. The interface between the user and the Enterprise Tool Set is the Task Manager. It supports the user in performing tasks through providing help with following procedures. The Task Manager plans user tasks, and identifies appropriate agents through matching the capabilities required for tasks against the capabilities of available agents; it thus provides the user with support within the context of the resources currently available.

AIAI is continuing its applied research in the area under the EPSRC Business Process Change Programme.

Further Information: Enterprise

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Last updated: Monday 9th June 1997