Alana co-founder awarded prestigious fellowship from the Royal Society to develop multimodal conversational AI systems

Verena Rieser

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In Summer 2020, Company co-founder Verena Rieser was awarded a Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship by the Royal Society to develop multimodal Conversational AI systems. The project will contribute to the new research field known as Visual Dialogue, which aims for an AI agent to hold a meaningful conversation with humans in conversational language about visual content.

While AI can already identify many objects placed in the view of a camera, one of the particular challenges, for instance for blind and partially sighted people,  is to be able to quickly and easily query the contents of their visual surroundings  Verena has been offered the fellowship to help overcome this problem and also use Alana’s existing conversational approach to make the technology more user friendly.

By the end of the project, Alana should be able to help users with highly specific queries to navigate their environment in a quicker and easier way. The team will need to modify some of the existing ways that AI grounds an expression (“my mug”) in a specific physical object (“this one?”), as well as face challenges around identity and privacy.

Verena Rieser, Alana co-founder and head of natural language processing, said, “I am really excited to have been offered the opportunity to perform cutting edge research in a meaningful context. My team and I are looking forward to exploring some pioneering research ideas, while at the same time keeping the end-user in the loop and enabling inclusive access to technologies for those who need them most. It is an honour to have been awarded such a prestigious fellowship.”

The Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship is awarded to eight experienced scholars to complete a significant piece of research through a sustained period of one year’s leave from teaching.

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