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Linux Gazette: Narval, the Intelligent Personal Assistant

Nov 04, 2000, 22:04 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Nicolas Chauvat)


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"When you spend most of your day using your computer to work with other people on several projects, keep in touch with friends, try not to lose ground on the news front and answer phone calls, you soon realize that what you really need is someone or something that does part of your work for you. That someone exists and is called a secretary or an assistant. They are real people, work for money, sleep at night and do not necessarily add up two ten digits numbers in 10e-9 seconds. That something exists too. There are a few instances of it in several AI labs, but unlike the former, they're not that smart. Nonetheless, let's be optimistic and call those somethings Intelligent Personal Assistants."

"Narval is one of them. It borrows from advanced techniques like petri nets, rule-based systems, programming by contracts, planning, automated learning, component programming and XML, to let one release the pressure of repetitive work."

"Narval executes recipes, that are sequences of actions linked by transitions. An action can be downloading a web page, performing a database query, transforming a piece of XML, sending an e-mail or whatever you may want to wrap in a few lines of python code. Conditions can be associated to transitions so that you can control the execution path through the graph representing a recipe. That gives you the basic vocabulary to control the flow of execution through different branches of your recipe and to coordinate concurrent tasks."

"Narval is the only Intelligent Personal Assistant released as free software that we know of. At least three companies have commercial products that we consider related, even if they do not belong to the same category for they are not as generic nor customizable and extensible as Narval."

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