Yorick Wilks

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Yorick Wilks
Yorick Wilks.jpg
Born (1939-10-27) 27 October 1939 (age 83)
United Kingdom
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Known forGeneral Architecture for Text Engineering (GATE)
AwardsLoebner Prize (1997); The biennial Antonio Zampolli Prize by the European Language Development Association at LREC (2008); The Lifetime Achievement Award at the ACL (2008); The British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal (2009)
Scientific career
FieldsArtificial Intelligence
Natural language processing
InstitutionsUniversity of Sheffield
University of Oxford
ThesisArgument and proof in metaphysics from an empirical point of view (1968)
Doctoral advisorR. B. Braithwaite

Yorick Wilks FBCS (born 27 October 1939), a British computer scientist, is emeritus professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, visiting professor of artificial intelligence at Gresham College (a post created especially for him), Former senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, senior scientist at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, and a member of the Epiphany Philosophers.


Wilks was educated at Torquay Boys' Grammar School, followed by Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he read Philosophy,[1] joined the Epiphany Philosophers and obtained his Doctor of Philosophy degree (1968) under Professor R. B. Braithwaite for the thesis 'Argument and Proof';[2] he was an early pioneer in meaning-based approaches to the understanding of natural language content by computers.[3] His main early contribution in the 1970s was called "Preference Semantics" (Wilks, 1973; Wilks and Fass, 1992), an algorithmic method for assigning the "most coherent" interpretation to a sentence in terms of having the maximum number of internal preferences of its parts (normally verbs or adjectives) satisfied. That early work was hand-coded with semantic entries (of the order of some hundreds) as was normal at the time, but since then has led to the empirical determinations of preferences (chiefly of English verbs) in the 1980s and 1990s.[4]

A key component of the notion of preference in semantics was that the interpretation of an utterance is not a well- or ill-formed notion, as was argued in Chomskyan approaches, such as those of Jerry Fodor and Jerrold Katz. It was rather that a semantic interpretation was the best available, even though some preferences might not be satisfied. So, in "The machine answered the question with a low whine" the agent of "answer" does not satisfy that verb's preference for a human answerer—which would cause it to be deemed ill-formed by Fodor and Katz—but is accepted as sub-optimal or metaphorical, and, now, conventional. The function of the algorithm is not to determine well-formedness at all but to make the optimal selection of word-senses to participate in the overall interpretation. Thus, in "The Pole answered..." the system will always select the human sense of the agent and not the inanimate one if it gives a more coherent interpretation overall.

Preference Semantics is thus some of the earliest computational work—with programs run at Systems Development Corporation in Santa Monica in 1967 in LISP on an IBM360—in the now established field of word sense disambiguation.[5] This approach was used in the first operational machine translation system based principally on meaning structures and built by Wilks at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the early 1970s (Wilks, 1973) at the same time and place as Roger Schank was applying his "Conceptual Dependency" approach to machine translation. The LISP code of Wilks' system was in The Computer Museum, Boston.

Yorick Wilks has been elected a fellow of the American and European Associations for Artificial Intelligence, of the British Computer Society, a member of the UK Computing Research Committee, and a permanent member of ICCL, the International Committee on Computational Linguistics. He is professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield and a senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute. In 1991 he received a Defense Advanced Projects Agency grant on interlingual pragmatics-based machine translation and in 1994 he received a grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to investigate in the field of large-scale information extraction (LaSIE); in the following years he would obtained more grants to carry on exploring the field of information extraction (AVENTINUS, ECRAN, PASTA...). In the 1990s Wilks also became interested in modelling human-computer dialogue and the team led by David Levy and him as chief researcher won the Loebner Prize in 1997.[6] He was the founding director of the EU funded Companions Project on creating long-term computer companions for people. At his Festschrift in 2007 at the British Computer Society in London a volume of his own papers[7] was presented along with a volume of essays in his honour.[8] He was awarded the Antonio Zampolli prize in honour of his lifetime work at the LREC'2008 conference on 28 May 2008, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the ACL'2008 conference on 18 June 2008. In 2009, he was awarded the British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal, its annual award for research achievement, and was awarded the Fellowship of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In 1998, Wilks became head of the Department of Computer Science of the University of Sheffield, where he had started working in the year 1993 as professor of artificial intelligence, a post he still holds. In 1993 he became the founding director of the Institute of Language, Speech and Hearing (ILASH). Wilks also set up the Natural Language Processing Group of the University of Sheffield. In 1994 he (along with Rob Gaizauskas and Hamish Cunningham) designed GATE, an advanced NLP architecture that has been widely distributed.[9]

National Life Stories conducted an oral history interview (C1672/24) with Yorick Wilks in 2016 for its Science and Religion collection held by the British Library.[10]

Relevant data[edit]


Yorick Wilks has received many awards:[11]


Yorick Wilks is an active member of the following associations:[14]

  • Association for Computational Linguistics
  • Society for the Study of AI and Simulation of Behaviour
  • Association for Computing Machinery
  • Cognitive Science Society
  • British Society for the Philosophy of Science
  • American Association for Artificial Intelligence
  • Aristotelean Society

Selected works[edit]


  • Wilks, Y. (2019) Artificial Intelligence: Modern Magic or Dangerous Future?.Icon Books.
  • Wilks, Y. (2015) Machine Translation: its scope and limits. Springer [15]
  • Wilks, Y (ed.) (2010) Close Engagements with Artificial Companions: Key Social, Psychological and Design issues. John Benjamins; Amsterdam
  • Wilks, Y., Brewster, C. (2009) Natural Language Processing as a Foundation of the Semantic Web. Now Press: London.[16][17]
  • Wilks, Y. (2007) Words and Intelligence I, Selected papers by Yorick Wilks. In K. Ahmad, C. Brewster & M. Stevenson (eds.), Springer: Dordrecht.
  • Wilks, Y. (ed. and with introduction and commentaries). (2006) Language, cohesion and form: selected papers of Margaret Masterman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wilks, Y., Nirenburg, S., Somers, H. (eds.) (2003) Readings in Machine Translation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Wilks, Y.(ed.). (1999) Machine Conversations. Kluwer: New York.
  • Wilks, Y., Slator, B., Guthrie, L. (1996) Electric Words: dictionaries, computers and meanings. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Ballim, A., Wilks, Y. (1991) Artificial Believers. Norwood, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Wilks, Y.(ed.). (1990) Theoretical Issues in Natural Language Processing. Norwood, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Wilks, Y., Partridge, D. (eds. plus three YW chapters and an introduction). (1990) The Foundations of Artificial Intelligence: a sourcebook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wilks, Y., Sparck-Jones, K.(eds.). (1984) Automatic Natural Language Processing, paperback edition. New York: Wiley. Originally published by Ellis Horwood.
  • Wilks, Y., Charniak, E. (eds and principal authors). (1976) Computational Semantics—an Introduction to Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Understanding. Amsterdam: North-Holland. Reprinted in Russian, in the series Progress in Linguistics, Moscow, 1981.
  • Wilks, Y. (1972) Grammar, Meaning and the Machine Analysis of Language. London and Boston: Routledge.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maybury, Mark (2007). "Yorick Alexander Wilks: A Meaningful Journey". Words and Intelligence II. Text, Speech and Language Technology. Vol. 36. pp. 1–37. doi:10.1007/1-4020-5833-0_1. ISBN 978-1-4020-5832-5.
  2. ^ Yorick Wilks'profile at the University of Sheffield's web page
  3. ^ "Grishman, R. and Sterling, J. (1989) at" (PDF). aclweb.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 February 2012. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  4. ^ Resnik, P. (1997) Selectional Preference and Sense Disambiguation, In Proceedings of ACL Siglex Workshop on Tagging Text with Lexical Semantics, Why, What and How?, Washington, 4–5 April 1997.
  5. ^ "LINGUIST List 14.2879: Comp Ling: Nirenburg, Somers & Wilks (2003) | Bob Kuhns (SUN MIcrosystems) review of MT systems at". linguistlist.org. 21 October 2003. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  6. ^ David Levy (2007) blog entry http://www.powells.com/blog/?p=2643
  7. ^ Khurshid Ahmad, Christopher Brewster, Mark Stevenson (Editors) (2007) Words and Intelligence I: Selected Papers by Yorick Wilks. Springer, ISBN 978-1-4020-5284-2
  8. ^ Ahmad, K., Brewster, C., and Stevenson, M. (2007) (Editors). Words and Intelligence: Volume 2: Essays in Honour of Yorick Wilks (Springer, 2007).
  9. ^ Natural Language Processing Group of the University of Sheffield's web page
  10. ^ National Life Stories, 'Wilks, Yorick (1 of 1) National Life Stories Collection: Science and Religion', The British Library Board, 2016. Retrieved 9 October 2017
  11. ^ Yorick Wilks' CV at the University of Sheffield's web page
  12. ^ "Yorick Wilks - Award Winner". fellows.acm.org. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  13. ^ "ACL Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients". ACL wiki. ACL. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  14. ^ Yorick Wilks' profile at the University of Sheffield's web page
  15. ^ Machine Translation - Its Scope and Limits | Yorick Wilks | Springer. springer.com. ISBN 9780387727738. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  16. ^ "now publishers - Error". nowpublishers.com. Retrieved 25 August 2015.[dead link]
  17. ^ Wilks, Y.; Brewster, C. (2009). Natural Language Processing as a Foundation of the Semantic Web. Now Publishers. ISBN 9781601982100. Retrieved 25 August 2015.

External links[edit]

Preceded by ACL Lifetime Achievement Award
Succeeded by