Skip to content

Toggle service links

Coronavirus: Course registration is open, but please be aware it may take us longer to respond than usual. Find out about our coronavirus response and current contact hours.

You are here

  1. Home
  2. Dr Alistair Willis

Dr Alistair Willis

Image of Alistair Willis in round glasses

Profile summary

Professional biography

Alistair Willis is a Senior Lecturer in Computing at the Open University. He holds a BA in Physics and Philosophy from the University of Cambridge, an MSc in Artificial Intelligence from the University of Edinburgh, and a DPhil in Computer Science from the University of York. After his DPhil, Alistair worked in the software engineering group at Philips Research Laboratories on automatic software testing, before joining the Open University's Computing Department in 2003. 

Alistair leads the Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing research group in the School of Computing and Communications, and leads the Data Science theme of the Institute of Coding.

Research interests

Alistair's research focuses on Natural Language Processing (NLP), and in particular how people interpret ambiguous text. At the Open University, he has investigated how to build computational models that predict when different people will disagree on the interpretation of ambiguous text. His work has looked at both the theoretical foundations of the phenomenon, and its potential impact in the area of requirements engineering.

He is also interested in the problem of how to recognise semantic similarity between texts. His research in this area applies inductive logic programming to learn systems for automatically grading students' written work. This work is currently being extended to use deep learning models for grading, as well as traditional symbolic methods.

The methods underlying these tasks are generalisable beyond NLP. Alistair has collaborated with computational musicologists on machine learning techniques to support automatic music composition for games, and with social scientists on using social media to understand the audience for the Russian television network RT.

Teaching interests

Alistair currently chairs the final year module Data Management and Analysis. This gives students a holistic view of the data lifecycle, developing a range of technical and discursive skills to enable them to use data to tell a story. By using open datasets, the module also attempts to demonstrate to students the possibility of using open data to effect change in the world.

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
CRC: Language, Multimedia and Knowledge TechnologiesGroupFaculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology

Publications

Tweeting the Russian revolution: RT’s #1917LIVE and social media re-enactments as public diplomacy (2019-10-05)
Crilley, Rhys; Gillespie, Marie and Willis, Alistair
European Journal of Cultural Studies ((Early Access))


Seeing the smart city on Twitter: Colour and the affective territories of becoming smart (2019-06-01)
Rose, Gillian and Willis, Alistair
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 37(3) (pp. 411-427)


Developing and evaluating computational models of musical style (2016-02-28)
Collins, Tom; Laney, Robin; Willis, Alistair and Garthwaite, Paul H.
Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing, 30(1) (pp. 16-43)


Mapping networks of influence: tracking Twitter conversations through time and space (2015-05)
Willis, Alistair; Fisher, Ali and Lvov, Ilia
Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, 12(1) (pp. 494-530)


The FuturICT education accelerator (2012-10)
Johnson, J.; Buckingham Shum, S.; Willis, A.; Bishop, S.; Zamenopoulos, T.; Swithenby, S.; MacKay, R.; Merali, Y.; Lorincz, A.; Costea, C.; Bourgine, P.; Louçã, J.; Kapenieks, A.; Kelly, P.; Caird, S.; Bromley, J.; Deakin Crick, R.; Goldspink, C.; Collet, P.; Carbone, A. and Helbing, D.
European Physical Journal - Special Topics, 214 (pp. 215-243)


A hybrid model for automatic emotion recognition in suicide notes (2012-01-30)
Yang, Hui; Willis, Alistair; De Roeck, Anne and Nuseibeh, Bashar
Biomedical Informatics Insights, 5(Supp 1) (pp. 17-30)


Towards the bibliography of life (2011-11-27)
King, David; Morse, David R.; Willis, Alistair and Dil, Anton
ZooKeys, 150 (pp. 151-166)


Analysing anaphoric ambiguity in natural language requirements (2011-05)
Yang, Hui; De Roeck, Anne; Gervasi, Vincenzo; Willis, Alistair and Nuseibeh, Bashar
Requirements Engineering, 16(3) (pp. 163-189)


Modeling pattern importance in Chopin's mazurkas (2011-04)
Collins, Tom; Laney, Robin; Willis, Alistair and Garthwaite, Paul
Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 28(4) (pp. 387-414)


Automatic identification of nocuous ambiguity (2008-12)
Willis, Alistair; Chantree, Francis and De Roeck, Anne
Research on Language and Computation, 6(3-4) (pp. 355-374)


Detecting dangerous coordination ambiguities using word distribution (2007)
Chantree, Francis; Willis, Alistair; Kilgarriff, Adam and De Roeck, Anne
In: Nicolov, Nicolas; Bontcheva, Kalina; Anjelova, Galia and Mitkov, Ruslan eds. Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory (292) (pp. 287-296)
Publisher : John Benjamins Publishers


The availability of partial scopings in an underspecified semantic representation (2002-01)
Willis, Alistair and Manandhar, Suresh
In: Bunt, Harry; Muskens, Reinhard and Thijsse, Elias eds. Computing Meaning. Studies in Linguistics and Philosophy
ISBN : 1 402001 75 4 | Publisher : Kluwer Academic Publishers


Towards a Cross-article Narrative Comparison of News (2020)
Mensio, Martino; Alani, Harith and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of the Text2Story’20 Workshop (14 Apr 2020, Lisbon, Portugal)


Developing Students' Written Communication Skills with Jupyter Notebooks (2020)
Willis, Alistair; Charlton, Patricia and Hirst, Tony
In : Technical Symposium of the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) (11-14 Mar 2020, Portland, OR, USA)


Automatically calculating tonal tension (2020)
Ruiz-Marcos, Germán; Willis, Alistair and Laney, Robin
In : The 2020 Joint Conference on AI Music Creativity (19-23 Oct 2020, Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden [On-line])


Identifying Annotator Bias: A new IRT-based method for bias identification (2020)
Amidei, Jacopo; Piwek, Paul and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of The 28th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (COLING) (8-13 Dec 2020, Barcelona, Spain) (pp. 4787-4797)


Agreement is overrated: A plea for correlation to assess human evaluation reliability (2019)
Amidei, Jacopo; Piwek, Paul and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Natural Language Generation (29 Oct - 1 Nov 2019, Tokyo, Japan)


The use of rating and Likert scales in Natural Language Generation human evaluation tasks: A review and some recommendations (2019)
Amidei, Jacopo; Piwek, Paul and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Natural Language Generation (29 Oct - 1 Nov 2019, Tokyo, Japan)


Evaluation methodologies in Automatic Question Generation 2013-2018 (2018-11-06)
Amidei, Jacopo; Piwek, Paul and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of The 11th International Natural Language Generation Conference (5-8 Nov 2018, Tilburg, The Netherlands) (pp. 307-317)


Rethinking the Agreement in Human Evaluation Tasks (2018)
Amidei, Jacopo; Piwek, Paul and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of the 27th International Conference on Computational Linguistics (20-26 Aug 2018, Santa Fe, New Mexico) (pp. 3318-3329)


Search Personalization with Embeddings (2017-04-08)
Vu, Thanh; Nguyen, Dat Quoc; Johnson, Mark; Song, Dawei and Willis, Alistair
In : 39th European Conference on Information Retrieval (ECIR 2017) (8-13 Apr 2017, Aberdeen, Scotland UK)


Personalised Query Suggestion for Intranet Search with Temporal User Profiling (2017-03-07)
Vu, Thanh; Willis, Alistair; Kruschwitz, Udo and Song, Dawei
In : CHIIR 2017: ACM SIGIR Conference on Human Information Interaction and Retrieval (7-11 Mar 2017, Oslo, Norway) (pp. 265-268)


Adverse Drug Reaction Classification With Deep Neural Networks (2016-12-13)
Huynh, Trung; He, Yulan; Willis, Alistair and Rüger, Stefan
In : Coling 2016 (13-15 Dec 2016, Osaka) (pp. 877-887)


Using NLP to support scalable assessment of short free text responses (2015-06-04)
Willis, Alistair
In : Tenth Workshop on Innovative Use of NLP for Building Educational Applications (4 Jun 2015, Denver) (pp. 243-253)


Modelling time-aware search tasks for search personalisation (2015-05)
Vu, Thanh; Willis, Alistair and Song, Dawei
In : 24th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2015) (18-22 May 2015, Florence, Italy) (pp. 131-132)


Temporal latent topic user profiles for search personalisation (2015)
Vu, Thanh; Willis, Alistair; Tran, Son N. and Song, Dawei
In : 37th European Conference on Information Retrieval Research (ECIR 2015) (29 Mar - 02 Apr 2015, Vienna, Austria) (pp. 605-616)


Improving search personalisation with dynamic group formation (2014-07)
Vu, Thanh; Song, Dawei; Willis, Alistair; Tran, Son N. and Li, Jingfei
In : 37th Annual International ACM SIGIR Conference (6-11 Jul 2014, Gold Coast, Australia) (pp. 951-954)


Algorithmic music as intelligent game music (2014)
Prechtl, Anthony; Laney, Robin; Willis, Alistair and Samuels, Robert
In : AISB50: The 50th Annual Convention of the AISB (1-4 Apr 2014, London, UK)


Methodological approaches to the evaluation of game music systems (2014)
Prechtl, Anthony; Laney, Robin; Willis, Alistair and Samuels, Robert
In : Audio Mostly Conference (01-03 Oct 2014, Aalborg, Denmark)


ComTax: community-driven curation for taxonomic databases (2013-10)
Morse, David; Yang, Hui; Willis, Alistair; De Roeck, Anne and King, David
In : TDWG 2013 (27 Oct - 1 Nov 2013, Florence, Italy)


Literature-driven Curation for Taxonomic Name Databases (2013-09-12)
Yang, Hui; Willis, Alistair; Morse, David and De Roeck, Anne
In : The Second Semantic Web and Information Extraction Workshop (SWAIE'13) (12 Sep 2013, Hissa, Bulgaria)


Curation tools for taxonomic databases (2013-04)
Morse, David; De Roeck, Anne; Willis, Alistair and Yang, Hui
In : BioCuration 2013 (Su ay 7 Apr to Wednesday 10 April 2013, Churchill College, Cambridge, UK)


A generalised hybrid architecture for NLP (2012-04-23)
Willis, Alistair; Yang, Hui and De Roeck, Anne
In : Workshop on Innovative Hybrid Approaches to the Processing of Textual Data (23 Apr 2012, Avignon, France) (pp. 97-105)


Speculative requirements: automatic detection of uncertainty in natural language requirements (2012)
Yang, Hui; De Roeck, Anne; Gervasi, Vincenzo; Willis, Alistair and Nuseibeh, Bashar
In : The 20th IEEE International Requirements Engineering Conference (24-28 Sep 2012, Chicago, ILL, USA) (pp. 11-20)


From XML to XML: The why and how of making the biodiversity literature accessible to researchers (2010-05-19)
Willis, Alistair; King, David; Morse, David; Dil, Anton; Lyal, Chris and Roberts, David
In : Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC) (19-21 May 2010, Malta) (pp. 1237-1244)


Using discovered, polyphonic patterns to filter computer-generated music (2010-01)
Collins, Tom; Laney, Robin; Willis, Alistair and Garthwaite, Paul
In : Proceedings of the International Conference on Computational Creativity (7-9 Jan 2010, Lisbon Portugal)


A comparative evaluation of algorithms for discovering translational patterns in Baroque keyboard works (2010)
Collins, Tom; Thurlow, Jeremy; Laney, Robin; Willis, Alistair and Garthwaite, Paul
In : Proceedings of the International Symposium on Music Information Retrieval (9-13 Aug 2010, Utrecht, The Netherlands)


A methodology for automatic identification of nocuous ambiguity (2010)
Yang, Hui; De Roeck, Anne; Willis, Alistair and Nuseibeh, Bashar
In : The 23rd International Conference on Computational Linguistics (Coling 2010) (23-27 Aug 2010, Beijing, China) (pp. 1218-1226)


Automatic detection of nocuous coordination ambiguities in natural language requirements (2010)
Yang, Hui; Willis, Alistair; De Roeck, Anne and Nuseibeh, Bashar
In : The IEEE/ACM international conference on Automated software engineering (ASE'10) (20-24 Sep 2010, Antwerp, Belgium) (pp. 53-62)


Extending Nocuous Ambiguity Analysis for Anaphora in Natural Language Requirements (2010)
Yang, Hui; De Roeck, Anne; Gervasi, Vincenzo; Willis, Alistair and Nuseibeh, Bashar
In : 18th International IEEE Requirements Engineering Conference (RE'10) (27 Sep - 1 Oct 2010, Sydney, Australia) (pp. 25-34)


Making tacit requirements explicit (2009-09-01)
Gacitua, R.; Ma, L.; Nuseibeh, B.; Piwek, P.; De Roeck, A.; Rouncefield, M.; Sawyer, P.; Willis, A. and Yang, H.
In : Second International Workshop on Managing Requirements Knowledge (MaRK’09) (1 Sep 2009, Altanta, USA)


Improving search in scanned documents: Looking for OCR mismatches (2009-09)
Willis, Alistair; Morse, David; Dil, Anton; King, David; Roberts, Dave and Lyal, Chris
In : Workshop on Advanced Technologies for Digital Libraries 2009: ICSD - International Conference for Digital Libraries and the Semantic Web (8 Sep 2009, Trento, Italy)


On presuppositions in requirements (2009-09)
Ma, Lin; Nuseibeh, Bashar; Piwek, Paul; De Roeck, Anne and Willis, Alistair
In : 2009 Second International Workshop on Managing Requirements Knowledge (MaRK'09) (1 Sep 2009, Atlanta, Georgia, USA)


NP coordination in underspecified scope representations (2007-01)
Willis, Alistair
In : Seventh International Workshop on Computational Semantics (10-12 Jan 2007, Tilburg, Netherlands)


Identifying nocuous ambiguities in natural language requirements (2006-09-01)
Chantree, Francis; Nuseibeh, Bashar; De Roeck, Anne and Willis, Alistair
In : Proceedings of 14th IEEE International Requirements Engineering conference (RE'06) (11-15 Sep 2006, Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota, USA) (pp. 56-65)


Disambiguating coordinations using word distribution information (2005)
Chantree, F.; Kilgarriff, A.; De Roeck, A. and Willis, A.
In : Proceedings of Recent Advances in Natural Language Processing - 2005 (21-23 Sep 2005, Borovets, Bulgaria)


ABLE Software (2010-02-22)
King, David; Willis, Alistair; Dil, Anton and Morse, David
The Open University


ABLE Corpus (2010-02-22)
Willis, Alistair; King, David; Morse, David; Dil, Anton; Lyal, Chris and Roberts, Dave
The Open University