A demonstration of how plan-based modelling and natural language generation can be used to greatly assist human technical authors in the production of aircraft maintenance manuals


GhostWriter was a research project between British Aerospace Defence and Dassault Aviation, with assistance from AIAI and the Department of AI. Its primary objective was to design, develop and demonstrate a prototype authoring environment so as to illustrate the kinds of proactive support that are required by and that would benefit authors in the production of technical documents.

Business Perspective

The volume of technical publications produced by and on behalf of each of the two aerospace companies is very large. From a business perspective, the motivation behind the GhostWriter project was to seek ways in which the production of technical publications could be made more efficient and reliable. GhostWriter had to demonstrate an approach that would pay for itself in terms of the longer lifecycle of a publication, therefore the project concentrated particularly on the technology that would enable documents to be generated in English and French, and on knowledge-based techniques that would enable the author to receive advice about possible errors and omissions during the construction of a publication.

Technical Perspective

The cornerstone of the GhostWriter environment was the provision of meaningful assistance for an author to affect the composition of a plan-based model of the maintenance procedures to be carried out. This plan-based model was then used as the language-neutral representation of the procedures from which texts in different languages were generated. In exploiting this new approach, British Aerospace Defence and Dassault Aviation would no longer need to translate a text in one language to the equivalent text in other languages; instead, the meaning of the text is first represented in a plan-based form that is not dependent on any particular language and only then are the texts in various languages generated.

Applications Perspective

The prototype has been used to demonstrate the interactive and semi-automatic production of a significant portion of a complex maintenance procedure for the Falcon 900 aircraft in both English and French. The resulting texts are at a level close to that produced by human authors. The prototype has been demonstrated to members of the Technical Publications Department at British Aerospace and has received some praise, although further work in knowledge acquisition is required before it can be used in earnest.

AIAI Artificial Intelligence Applications Institute