University's research coup helped by George Washington

The first President of the United States, George Washington, has assisted a leading Irish university to land a prestigious research project, it emerged today.

In a rare outsourcing of research, US web giant Google has chosen Dublin City University to join two American universities in a project that is part of Google’s quest to make all information in the world searchable.

The research could make invaluable manuscripts and rare historical documents like the Book of Kells or George Washington’s personal diaries available and searchable on the web for scholars and interested people.

Up to now, this kind of material is usually kept behind closed doors or is accessible for examination in digital libraries one page at a time.

The DCU team, lead by Professor Alan Smeaton and Dr Noel O’Connor, has internationally recognised expertise in video analysis and has applied this to making images of handwriting searchable.

Dr O’Connor said: “With handwriting, which is at present not searchable, we are getting very good detection using the shape of a word, even though the writer will always alter the way he or she writes the same word each time.

“We’ve applied the approach to hundreds of pages of George Washington’s diaries and memoirs, getting very good results.

“For example, you can select the word ‘battle’ and find all the references to that word in Washington’s writings.”

“This will make historical manuscripts searchable for scholars and others in a way that has never been possible before,” Prof. Smeaton added.

Libraries around the world are in the process of digitising their rare and historical manuscripts.

In the future, using this technology, Google search engines could make these manuscripts available and searchable worldwide.

DCU is also involved with the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies in the Irish Script on Screen (ISOS) project, digitising old manuscripts written in Irish.

Thousands of images have been scanned with the intention of making them searchable.

The algorithms designed by DCU researchers can detect reasonable variations in shape, exactly the same variations that we have in our handwriting.

Prof. Smeaton said the techniques being developed in this project could lead to hand-written manuscripts being available for searching in the giant Google index within a couple of years.

“As a company, Google moves very fast and if the techniques we are developing in this project are as good as early results indicate, we can expect to see Google take up the outputs,” he said.

The project is being carried out by the Adaptive Information Cluster (AIC) at DCU in partnership with the University of Buffalo and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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