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AI drives digitization of ancient books

Author  :  TANG HONGLI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-10-09

At a September seminar co-hosted by the Institute of Electronic Documents and the Research Center of Chinese Poetry under China’s Capital Normal University, experts and scholars from countries including China, Egypt, Vietnam, Malaysia and Japan gathered to discuss the role of artificial intelligence in promoting the research and development of digitized ancient Chinese books.

Mentioning the influence of AI, Yin Xiaolin, director of the Institute of Electronic Documents, said that in the near future, intelligent robots or machines are likely to replace humans in some areas of professional work such as punctuation, collation, translation, and even textual research and analysis of ancient books.

Participants in the meeting pointed out that the application of AI may bring breakthroughs in many aspects. It may help realize automatic translation between classical Chinese and vernacular Chinese as well as automatic punctuation and collation. Through virtual technologies, historical scenes can be reproduced, and associations between historical figures and events can be automatically established in virtual space-time. Moreover, it makes possible automatic data mining and logic analysis for major academic projects, they said.

Each change in the forms of literal communication is a result of revolutionary progress in science and technology, said Zhao Minli, director of the Research Center of Chinese Poetry, adding that the method of preservation of ancient books has been shifting from early bamboo slips, silk, and paper to electronic media. The era of AI will break a new ground for the digitization of ancient books, he said.

Shen Wenfan, director of the Department of Chinese Language at Jilin University, said that with the help of more advanced AI technologies, it is possible to unlock cultural codes hidden in writings of time immemorial, mysterious cultures, and ancient poetry, songs and descriptive prose interspersed with verse. Hu Xiaoming, a professor of Chinese language from East China Normal University, noted that academia should reflect on how to establish a digital research system in the field of humanities through digitization of ancient books.

In addition, scholars at the meeting put forward suggestions for constructing a discipline of digitized ancient books. Digitization of ancient books is a systematic project that concerns traditional skills, such as cataloguing and emendation, and the most mature information technologies, such as optical character automatic recognition, digitized image processing and geographic information system.

They advised that the discipline should include curricula such as bibliography, database design, digital textual processing, duplication of documents and graphic production while conducting professional education on collecting and processing data and popularizing database products.

Editor: Yu Hui

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