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Easy AI with Microsoft.Text.Recognizers

I recently discovered that there's an XMPP client library (NuGet) for .NET that I overlooked a few months ago, and so I promptly investigated the building of a bot!

The actual bot itself needs some polishing before I post about it here, but in writing said bot I stumbled across a perfectly brilliant library - released by Microsoft of all companies - that can be used to automatically extract common data-types from a natural-language sentence.

While said library is the underpinnings of the Azure Bot Framework, it's actually free and open-source. To that end, I decided to experiment with it - and ended up writing this blog post.

Data types include (but are not limited to) dates and times (and ranges thereof), numbers, percentages, monetary amounts, email addresses, phone numbers, simple binary choices, and more!

While it also lands you with a terrific number of DLL dependencies in your build output folder, the result is totally worth it! How about pulling a DateTime from this:

in 5 minutes

or this:

the first Monday of January

or even this:

next Monday at half past six

Pretty cool, right? You can even pull multiple things out of the same sentence. For example, from the following:

The host has been down 3 times over the last month - the last of which was from 5pm and lasted 30 minutes

It can extract an IP address (, a number (3), and a few dates and times (last month, 5pm, 30 minutes).

I've written a test program that shows it in action. Here's a demo of it working:

(Can't see the asciicast above? View it on

The source code is, of course, available on my personal Git server: Demos/TextRecogniserDemo

If you can't check out the repo, here's the basic gist. First, install the Microsoft.Recognizers.Text package(s) for the types of data that you'd like to recognise. Then, to recognise a date or time, do this:

List<ModelResult> result = DateTimeRecognizer.RecognizeDateTime(nextLine, Culture.English);

The awkward bit is unwinding the ModelResult to get at the actual data. The matched text is stored in the ModelResult.Resolution property, but that's a SortedDictionary<string, object>. The interesting property inside which is value, but depending on the data type you're recognising - that can be an array too! The best way I've found to decipher the data types is to print the value of ModelResult.Resolution as a string to the console:


The .NET runtime will helpfully convert this into something like this:


Very helpful. Then we can continue to drill down:


This produces this:


Quite a mouthful, right? By cross-referencing this against the JSON (thanks, Newtonsoft.JSON!), we can figure out how to drill the rest of the way. I ended up writing myself a pair of little utility methods for dates and times:

public static DateTime RecogniseDateTime(string source, out string rawString)
    List<ModelResult> aiResults = DateTimeRecognizer.RecognizeDateTime(source, Culture.English);
    if (aiResults.Count == 0)
        throw new Exception("Error: Couldn't recognise any dates or times in that source string.");

    /* Example contents of the below dictionary:
        [0]: {[timex, 2018-11-11T06:15]}
        [1]: {[type, datetime]}
        [2]: {[value, 2018-11-11 06:15:00]}

    rawString = aiResults[0].Text;
    Dictionary<string, string> aiResult = unwindResult(aiResults[0]);
    string type = aiResult["type"];
    if (!(new string[] { "datetime", "date", "time", "datetimerange", "daterange", "timerange" }).Contains(type))
        throw new Exception($"Error: An invalid type of {type} was encountered ('datetime' expected).");

    string result = Regex.IsMatch(type, @"range$") ? aiResult["start"] : aiResult["value"];
    return DateTime.Parse(result);

private static Dictionary<string, string> unwindResult(ModelResult modelResult)
    return (modelResult.Resolution["values"] as List<Dictionary<string, string>>)[0];

Of course, it depends on your use-case as to precisely how you unwind it, but the above should be a good starting point.

Once I've polished the bot I've written a bit, I might post about it on here.

Found this interesting? Run into an issue? Got a neat use for it? Comment below!

Semantic Nets in Prolog

The new learning prolog banner!

Yesterday a few friends were puzzling over a few Prolog exam questions, and I thought I'd write up a post about what we learnt before I forget :-)

The first part of the question asked us to convert a paragraph of knowledge into a semantic net (isa / hasa) diagram. Here's the paragraph in question:

Charles and Wilbert are rats which are brown coloured European animals. Charles has a brown collar. Animals are defined as having DNA and being about to move. They include African animals, European animals and Australian animals. Skippy is a kangaroo; kangaroos are brown coloured Australian animals. Wallabies are dark brown Australian animals, Willy being one of them. They have a diet of eucalyptus leaves. Gnu are antelopes and come from Africa, and they have stripes, as are Nyala. Stella is a Gnu and Madge a Nyala.

This first part wasn't too tough. It doesn't quite fit in some places, but here's what I came up with:

Semantic Net isa / hasa diagram

(Generated using mermaid by Knut Sveidqvist)

The blue nodes are the isa node, while the green nodes are the hasa nodes. The next part asked us to convert the above into prolog. Again, this wasn't particularly hard - it's just a bunch of isa/2's and hasa/2's:

isa(charles, rat).
isa(wilbert, rat).
isa(rat, european_animal).
isa(european_animal, animal).
isa(african_animal, animal).
isa(australian_animal, animal).
isa(skippy, kangaroo).
isa(kangaroo, australian_animal).
isa(wallaby, australian_animal).
isa(willy, wallaby).
isa(gnu, antelope).
isa(antelope, african_animal).
isa(stella, gnu).
isa(madge, nyala).
hasa(animal, dna).
hasa(animal, able_to_move).
hasa(rat, colour(brown)).
hasa(wallaby, colour(dark_brown)).
hasa(wallaby, diet(eucaliptus_leaves)).
hasa(gnu, stripes).
hasa(nyala, stripes).

After converting the diagram into Prolog, we were then asked to write some Prolog that interacts with the above knowledge base. Here's the first challenge:

Define a predicate called appearance which behaves as follows:


Upon first sight, this looks rather complicated, but it's not actually as bad as it looks. Basically, it is asking for a predicate, that, given the name of a thing, returns the colour of that thing. For example, wilbert was produce the answer brown, and wallaby would return dark_brown. The trick here is to get Prolog to recurse up the isa hasa tree if it doesn't find the answer at the current node.

When thinking about recursion, a good idea is to consider the stopping condition first. In our case, we want it to stop when it finds a thing that has a colour. Here's that in Prolog:

appearance(Name, Colour) :-
    hasa(Name, colour(Colour)).

Now we've got a stopping condition in place, we can think about the recursion itself. If it doesn't find a colour at the current node, we want Prolog to follow the appropriate isa fact and travel to the next level up. We can do that like so:

appearance(Name, Colour) :-
    isa(Name, Thing),
    appearance(Thing, Colour).

That completes the first challenge. If you put the above together this is what you'll get:

appearance(Name, Colour) :-
    hasa(Name, colour(Colour)).
appearance(Name, Colour) :-
    isa(Name, Thing),
    appearance(Thing, Colour).

The second challenge, however, was much more challenging:

Write a predicate that takes two argument and is true if both animals live on the same continent. Thus

?- same_continent(skippy,willy).

is true, whilst

?- same_continent(stella,skippy).

is not.

The problem with this challenge is that unlike the first challenge, there isn't any way (that I could think of anyway) to determine he continent that an animal comes from. I managed to hack around this by always going up 2 levels before comparing the things to see if they are the same:

same_continent(NameA, NameB) :-
    isa(NameA, AnimalTypeA),
    isa(AnimalTypeA, ContA),

    isa(NameB, AnimalTypeB),
    isa(AnimalTypeB, ContB),

    ContA = ContB.

For example, if wilfred and charles were plugged in, both ContA and ContB would be set to european_animal, and so Prolog would return true. Prolog would tell us that skippy and wilbert are not of the same continent because ContA and ContB would be set to different values (european_animal and australian_animal).

Art by Mythdael