3.162 Dynamic Text conference report (91)

Fri, 23 Jun 89 18:18:23 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 162. Friday, 23 Jun 1989.

Date: Fri, 23 Jun 89 11:01:55 EDT
Subject: report on the conference (and on Humanist's effect)

To My Colleagues [distributed 22 June 1989]
>From Roy Flannagan
Subject New Worlds in Scholarship

Over 450 scholars who connect computer technology
with humanism met in Toronto last week. They were comprised
of government representatives from the nations of France,
Canada, the U.K., France, West Germany, Italy and the U.S.,
representatives from the think-tanks of IBM, Bell Laboratories,
and the Max Planck Institute, and academic representatives from
everywhere from Teneriffe to Osaka and Beijing. In their papers
they discussed computational linguistics, translation and the
teaching of language, lexicography, archaeology, anthropology,
history and literature, among many other topics. What the scholars
are doing is exciting for all their disciplines.
They are using the speed, the accuracy, the memory-storage,
and the counting ability of the computer to help them create
enormous databases, to encode those databases using artificial
intelligence techniques so that their information can be synthesized
and retrieved quickly. The software and hardware they are using
is already able to relate the different media of words and pictures
quite easily, in combinations only limited by the imagination
of the user.

A graduate student in English at the University of Toronto
has entered every valuable original text of the Shakespeare plays
in primary versions into one large textbase, and he can quickly
search for clusters of images, compositorial habits, structural
coherence, or synonyms. Archeologists at the University of
Southampton are teaching students how to discover, chart
and describe artefacts using computer simulations before they go
on-site, and archeologists at the University of Toronto have
entered the identifying marks from all known Greek amphoras as
one database that can can be used to chart Greek history and
migratory patterns quite easily for the entire classical period.
Historians and literary critics of the classics can begin now
to use the products of the Perseus Project at Harvard, whose
aim is to collect all classical drama (among many other databases)
together with translations, together with photographs of
archeological sites and statuary; the project is also designed
to be easily accessible to students in any university in the world.
The French Ministry of Culture is developing a similar program
for French culture.

I saw the prototype of IBM's mainframe program Critique,
which may help a great deal toward what Northrop Frye in his
keynote address to the conference called one of the highest
of academic goals of the computer: grading student essays.
Critique uses the memory storage of the mainframe to help
analyse any body of writing for grammatical errors, Malapropisms
or any misuse of words or phrases. Critique can distinguish
easily among *they're*, *their*, and *there*. Other multi-media
language programs will allow students to watch a movie like the
German *Three-Penny Opera* and touch various parts of the screen
to stop action or view the lyrics of a song Lotte Lenya is singing.
At Oxford University, specially designed user-friendly
software will allow any student to enter the Oxford Text Archives
to search any of the texts stored there in their original languages.
Professors can assign tutorial students a text-search and turn them
loose to find things on their own. History professors at Southampton
can ask students to the same thing with primary historical documents
stored in interactive programs for students to play with off-hours.
Lexicographers from all over the world are looking at
enormous national dictionaries such as the *OED* as repositories of
all knowledge, not just of definitions. Shakespeare is the
most-often-quoted author in the *OED*, and Milton is the third,
so both those authors can be re-constituted according to various
formulas or clusters of words using the entire corpus of the *OED*
in all its gigabytes, using software specially designed to manipulate
all the knowledge stored in the dictionary for quick retrieval.
Lexicographers from Italy and Holland are following suit.

The scholars who met under the aegis of the Association
for Literary and Linguistic Computing and the Association for
Computers in the Humanities in Toronto truly see all knowledge
as their province. They also see their community as a global
village connected for the very rapid transfer of data through
electronic mail.