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
"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."