The Alan Turing Institute and the British Library, together with researchers from a range of universities, have been awarded £9.2 million (USD$11.6mn) from a government fund for a five-year project called “Living with Machines”.
The project will see data scientists working with curators, historians, geographers and computational linguists with the goal to devise new methods in data science and artificial intelligence that can be applied to historical resources, producing tools and software to analyse digitized collections at scale for the first time.
In recognition of the significant changes currently underway in technology, notably in artificial intelligence, the project will use the century following the first Industrial Revolution, and the changes brought about by the advance of technology across all aspects of society during this period as its focus point.
Initial research plans involve scientists from The Alan Turing Institute collaborating with curators and researchers to build new software to analyse data drawn initially from millions of pages of out-of-copyright newspaper collections from within the archive in the British Library’s National Newspaper Building, and from other digitised historical collections, most notably government collected data, such as the census and registration of births, marriages and deaths.
The resulting new research methods will allow computational linguists and historians to track societal and cultural change in new ways during this transformative period in British history. Crucially, these new research methods will place the lives of ordinary people centre-stage, rather than privileging the perspectives of decision-makers and public commentators.
The insights from the project will provide vital context for the present-day debates about the future of work, prompted by the social change caused by the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” of artificial intelligence and robotics. For example, data-driven findings relating to how attitudes to machines and mechanization changed during the nineteenth century could help present-day researchers and policy-makers to understand and unpick public understanding around current attitudes towards new technologies.
Key starting points for the project include marshalling data, developing workflows and methods for ensuring data quality developing intuitive interfaces to facilitate collaboration with historians, and the launch of the collaborative research agenda through project laboratories.
Adrian Smith, director of The Alan Turing Institute, said in a statement: “Data science and artificial intelligence have the potential to supercharge the science and humanities. We can analyze vast amounts of data at a huge scale and uncover new insights and questions, as in this timely project with the British Library which will apply data-driven techniques to examine the human, social and cultural impact of the first industrial revolution. It is thrilling to bring together this diverse range of experts to work on this important research problem and deliver tools and techniques which will benefit scholars for generations to come.”