computer science


Alistair Knott - Research Interests

1. Language and the sensorimotor system

My current research focusses on the interface between language and the sensorimotor system. We can use language to talk about what we see and do in the world: I am interested in the neural mechanisms that allow this to happen. Much of my work explores embodied models of language, whose central claim is that language is closely related to the sensorimotor system. I propose a particularly strong embodied model of language. My proposal is that the syntactic structure of a sentence reporting a concrete episode in the world can be interpreted as a direct description of the sensorimotor processes through which this episode was experienced. I introduced this hypothesis in a recent book, and in several recent publications.
I am currently working on a Marsden project to test the hypothesis, jointly with Lubica Benuskova.

2. Neural network models

Most of my work involves developing neural network models of sensory and motor neural mechanisms, and of language processing mechanisms in the brain. Here are some papers presenting models of language processing and language development:
Models of visual attention and object categorisation:
Models of motor control:
Models of episode representations in working memory:

3. AI and society

I'm interested in the effects that Artificial Intelligence technologies will have on society. I have recently helped to organise a cross-disciplinary working group to discuss these questions: the Artificial Intelligence and Society Discussion Group..

4. Computational linguistics

By training I am a computational linguist. I have worked on computational models of discourse and dialogue structure, and of natural language generation. My most recent work in this area has been in human-computer dialogue systems: together with students and colleagues, I developed a system to teach certain aspects of conversational Mäori. This system is described in the following papers:
  • P Vlugter, A Knott, J McDonald, C Hall: Dialogue-based CALL: a case study on teaching pronouns. Computer-Assisted Language Learning 22(2):115-131 (2009).
  • A Knott and P Vlugter: Multi-agent human-machine dialogue: issues in dialogue management and referring expression semantics. Artificial Intelligence 172:69-102 (2008).

For more information about my computational linguistics research: