computer science


Alistair Knott

Associate Professor

Room Owheo Building, Room 2.54
Phone +64 3 479 8299

My background is in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. I studied psychology and philosophy at Oxford University, and then took an MSc and PhD in artificial intelligence at the University of Edinburgh, which I completed in 1995. My post-doctoral work has also been in Edinburgh, and I arrived in Otago in November 1998.

My main research interest is in computational linguistics; in particular in theories of discourse structure and natural language generation. The kind of questions I think about are:

What makes a text like this one 'hang together'?
Why does it sound strange if you mix the sentences up in a random order?
What would you need to tell a computer to get it to create a text like this one from a database of facts?

One of the things you need to know when you're writing a text is who the reader is. If I knew you were a linguist, I'd go on to say I'm interested in semantics, especially dynamic semantics and the semantics of generics. If I knew you were an industrial sponsor, I'd tell you I'm involved in building text generation systems that run on the web, producing hypertext pages tailored to individual users.

For several years I have been studying the relationship between language and the sensorimotor system. I am interested in 'embodied' models of language, which propose that language is closely connected to sensorimotor processing. My specific project is to reinterpret traditional models of syntax in the light of this idea.

Selected Publications

A Knott
Sensorimotor Cognition and Natural Language Syntax.
MIT Press 2012.

M Takac, L Benuskova and A Knott
Mapping sensorimotor sequences to word sequences: A connectionist model of language acquisition and sentence generation.
Cognition 125:288-308 (2012).

A Knott and P Vlugter
Multi-agent human-machine dialogue: issues in dialogue management and referring expression semantics.
Artificial Intelligence 172:69-102 (2008)

A Knott
A Data-Driven Methodology for Motivating a Set of Coherence Relations
PhD thesis, Department of Artificial Intelligence, University of Edinburgh (1996)

Personal web site

Picture of Alistair Knott