Monday, May 27, 2013

Super computers match fragments of Cairo Geniza

NY Times   The idea is to harness technology to help reassemble more than 100,000 document fragments collected across 1,000 years that reveal details of Jewish life along the Mediterranean, including marriage, medicine and mysticism. For decades, scholars relied mainly on memory to match up pieces of the Cairo genizah, a treasure trove of papers that include works by the rabbinical scholar Maimonides, parts of Torah scrolls and prayer books, reams of poetry and personal letters, contracts, and court documents, even recipes (there is a particularly vile one for honey-wine). 

Now, for the first time, a sophisticated artificial intelligence program running on a powerful computer network is conducting 4.5 trillion calculations per second to vastly narrow down the possibilities. 

“In one hour, the computer can compare 10 million pairs — 10 million pairs is something a human being cannot do in a lifetime,” said Roni Shweka, who has advanced degrees in both computers and Talmud and is helping lead the effort. “It’s going to be a very powerful tool for every researcher today that’s going to work on one fragment. In a few seconds, he’ll be able to find the other fragments, like finding the needle in the hay.” 

The genizah project is part of a growing movement to unleash advanced technology on the humanities. In recent years, geeks and poets have been collaborating on databases and digital mapping that are transforming the study of history, literature, music and more.[...]

The 320,000 pages and parts of pages — in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Judeo-Arabic (Arabic transliterated into Hebrew letters) — were scattered in 67 libraries and private collections around the world, only a fraction of them collated and cataloged. More than 200 volumes and thousands of academic papers have been published based on the material, most focused on a single fragment or a few. Perhaps 4,000 have been pieced together through a painstaking, expensive, exclusive process that relied a lot on luck.  [...]

No comments :

Post a Comment

please use either your real name or a pseudonym.