Artificial Historians

Posted by sepoy on July 21, 2004 · 2 mins read

I admit that I am a techno-geek. I also spend approx. 4 hours a day in the stacks here at Regenstein. And some readers of CM have complained that there is not enough "tech" and lots of "history". The actual word of complaint was "shibrum-shibrum". To placate that reader I offer this news about robotic librarians as a sign that history and technology can indeed mesh in my twisted skull:

It can read the labels and the position of the book using its image processing and optical character recognition software," the professor said. Once the book is located, it has to grasp it and take it off the bookshelf, which is not a simple as it might seem.For this, the team had to develop special fingertips like a nails, with one nail longer than the other.
Professor Pobil said it was a "real possibility" that teams of robots could, in about five years' time, realistically perform searching and fetching tasks.
They could even mill around doing their work at night, working on library inventories, or identifying missing books, or mapping libraries.

I don't see this impacting the role of the librarian but the work of hundreds of work-study students. My question is how will the OCR treat non-English text? And will this intervention of the AI give us newer ways of cataloguing and stacking?

And as to my reference to Historians....
2. Take the algorithm that runs Google News which aggregates information without any human intervention.
+ 2. Add to it Amazon's A9 engine which has hundreds of thousands of books scanned.
= Wait patiently for the AI to improve for the next 5 years.
4. Voil·. A Historian Engine that can process through any set of academic data and spit out a rational, logical arrangement of facts and analysis. No?
Ok. I know I am reaching here but given that most mechanical jobs have or will soon be lost to robotic industry, how long before the Ivory Tower comes under seige? Do the publishing industry really needs a Ph.D. to come out with A Quick Guide to Irish History when a program can arrange the facts into a simple narrative?
We already have the AI to piss off republicans.
xposted at Cliopatria


s¯nee | July 22, 2004

ok this 2+2=4 can be a good idea; but these robolibrarians will only be good enough to carry book bundles from one place to another, and they can also barcode all the books so its easier for it to fetch too, no text reading required . But... now how many poeple 'actually' go to the libraries; as in its not like ¥the old times, go and sit and read etc etc. everything is online (most of it), articles, journals, research etc.. even the books. some libraries here(DK), have huge databases on their main website, you just order/reserve the book and it comes to your mailbox..simple..this might be the case for science and engineering and totally NOT for some 'shibrum-shibrum' subjects like : HISTORY... and all about robots at

thatshortkid | July 22, 2004

Interesting.... The robot-replacing-worker situation that's been hitting the lower rungs of the ladder may be coming to an Ivory Tower near you. What's also interesting is that tech PhD's might end up putting 'paper' PhD's out of business. Ha! btw, i thought you hated the term 'Ivory Tower'

Kiddo | July 23, 2004

A9 uses Google's search engine as it's backend - so theoretically at least, adding that interface to Google News is a distinct possibility. Anyway, perhaps as a techno-geek and a historian interested in libaries(naturally) , you would like to know about Dspace - an advanced digital library system. One of it's main goals is to preserve digital works over the long term. As for the robot, it can identify a book based on a stored image of it's cover or a barcode strip - matching it with the image on the book - or by it's location - or by RFID - and once a book has been identified, information related to the primary key (book no?) can be extracted from a digital repository - like DSpace. The work study kids can now move on to IT jobs - maintaining and developing DSpace like me, instead of manual labor ;)

sepoy | July 23, 2004

kiddo: i need to move to mit. can you put in a good word for me? they may be looking for a historian who wants to muck around in code all day. here's to dreams

Kiddo | July 23, 2004

Sure, as soon as I get in there myself ;) I work at the other Tech right now .... DSpace is an open source project so you don't have to be at MIT to work on it :)