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Uncovering History's Hidden Secrets

Posted: 9/04/2012 18:56

The way we use technology today, both in a personal and professional capacity, is undoubtedly changing the world we know, and for the better. Never before have we been able to uncover so many of life's unexplained phenomena as we are today. Just last week, for instance, Professor Kosuke Heki of Hokkaido University in Japan spoke to BBC News about how analyzing GPS signals can potentially help predict earthquakes -- a finding which is being heralded a major breakthrough in the wake of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Although not a solved problem just yet, it is certainly a step forward and an example of how technology continues to push the boundaries.

The reality of uncovering meaning and patterns within data has always been something that has fascinated me, hence why Autonomy was founded on such core principals. Today, due to technology's mass appeal and accessibility, on a daily basis we collectively produce 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, and the growth rate is so high that 90 percent of all information ever created was produced in the last two years alone.

The potential to use all forms of data, such as voice, video, text and images, for instance, to progress learning and create a more predictable and consequently, less volatile world, is huge. It is certainly hard not to get excited by the prospect of what else is going to be uncovered in the not-too-distant future due to the way technology can provide us with greater meaning that without it, could be locked away forever.

To demonstrate just how important technology is to understanding meaning, world-class academic information and knowledge center Mimas, based at the University of Manchester, has launched a new search and discovery platform which has made over 365,000 historic books available online via JISC Historic Books on behalf of JISC Collections.

JISC Historic Books provides researchers, students and the broader academic community in the U.K. with access to vast amounts of digitized content across a wide range of disciplines, including 300,000 books published in Britain before 1800, and over 65,000 original editions from the nineteenth century, covering philosophy, history, poetry and literature. The collection extends to over 25 million pages of rare and previously inaccessible content. Shelves and shelves of books, that could previously only be read in the St. Pancras Reading Rooms, by one reader at a time, are now simultaneously and instantly available to thousands of JISC eCollections members' users.

This initiative evolves research in the U.K. by suggesting relevant content automatically and in real-time, opening up researchers to a world of resources they otherwise may not have known exist. The technology is intelligent; it automatically understands concepts within data, so if you're looking for something specific, it will automatically draw your attention to other appropriate and relevant content that you might otherwise have missed. This highlights how meaning-based technology can be used to unlock some of our country's most valuable assets -- its literature and the "unknown unknown" which are yet to be discovered.

That is just one example. Now think of the potential of applying this approach to other forms of information, such as medical or seismograph data. By understanding meaning in information, the possibility of having a more predictable world seems within reach.

We hope the technology provides the U.K. with the tools to go on and uncover history's hidden secrets, leading the path for the global academic community. By helping to ensure that 25 Terabytes of invaluable historical data is safe and available to the academic community in a truly meaningful way, we open the possibility to solve some of the great academic questions.