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Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Net 'brain' has all the answers
PlayStation 2 games console
System used to help PlayStation 2 owners
An internet "brain" that could replace human interaction has been invented by two Cambridge University researchers.

The system, dubbed Metafaq, can answer e-mailed questions and also guide surfers through websites.

It may have artificial intelligence but it can answer questions as well as any human, claims inventor Doctor Davin Yap.

"It allows people to search intelligently and predicts the questions they will ask," he said.

Playstation answers

The system is about to be used by Sony to offer technical support to PlayStation users.


It makes it easier for people to find information

Dr Davin Yap, Cambridge University
Users going on the Sony website can browse the Metafaq knowledge base or e-mail it questions.

Simple questions such as whether PlayStation 2 can be used to play DVDs or when the next game will be released can be answered quickly and easily by Metafaq, without the need for a phone-call.

"Many of the queries are of a very similar nature and we can save our customers a lot of time and effort by providing immediate answers 24/7," said Managing Director of Sony UK, Ray Maguire.

Experience with PlayStation users shows that 85% of the time questions could be answered directly by Metafaq.

If the question cannot be answered by the system, then it will be forwarded to a human being. The response is then e-mailed back and added to the knowledge base.

So the more questions that are asked, the brainier Metafaq becomes.

At your fingertips

Dr Yap says that up to three-quarters of information requested by customers on the net is already available on the website.

"It makes it easier for people to find information," he said.

One reader at Cambridge University is already using the system to answer student's questions.

So would the system prove helpful to the most notorious of question dodgers - politicians?

"We are already piloting it for some government sites," said Dr Yap, who developed the system with his colleague, David MacKay.

"There is a trial with NHS consultants to answer questions about post-operative care and in the Thames Valley there is a project to create the knowledge base to share information across the emergency services," he said.


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