Computers

How a computer sees history after "reading" 35 million news stories

How a computer sees history af...
Millions of old news stories were run through data analysis to reveal new historical insights and trends
Millions of old news stories were run through data analysis to reveal new historical insights and trends
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Millions of old news stories were run through data analysis to reveal new historical insights and trends
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Millions of old news stories were run through data analysis to reveal new historical insights and trends

So far, humans have relied on the written word to record what we know as history. When artificial intelligence researchers ran billions of those words from decades of news coverage through an automated analysis, however, even more patterns and insights were revealed.

A team from the University of Bristol ran 35 million articles from 100 local British newspapers spanning 150 years through both a simple content analysis and more sophisticated machine learning processes. By having machines "read" the nearly 30 billion words, the simple analysis allowed researchers to easily and accurately identify big events like wars and epidemics.

Similar systems have allowed computers to learn visually about art and even argue a topic.

Perhaps most interesting, the techniques also allowed the researchers to see the rise and fall of different trends during the study range from the years 1800 - 1950. For example, they could track the decline of steam and corresponding rise of electricity – the opposing trajectories crossed each other in 1898. Similarly, they saw when trains overtook horses in popularity in 1902.

By linking famous people to the news from their chosen profession, the team discovered that politicians and writers had the best chance of becoming well-known during their lifetimes. Scientists and mathematicians are less likely to achieve such fame, but those that do will likely see their notoriety last longer.

Not surprisingly, men are more present in the news of the day than women, but a slow increase in mentions of females can be seen after 1900. It would seem that progress continued to be slow even after the study period, as the researchers note that levels of gender bias in the news today aren't much different.

While the large dataset analysis can provide interesting additional insights into history, the researchers have no designs on artificial intelligence replacing historians anytime soon.

"What cannot be automated is the understanding of the implications of these findings for people," said Dr. Tom Lansdall-Welfare, who led the computational part of the study. "That will always be the realm of the humanities and social sciences, and never that of machines."

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: University of Bristol

13 comments
William H Lanteigne
Without a doubt, some 14 year old whiz kid in Southeast Asia is working on algorithms to automate the understanding of the implications of these findings for people...
TommyBrown
I agree William H Lanteigne and I would also like to see some computer whiz do the same with our American newsPapers and then compare it with all the corrected stories to see what are ended up lies too. Those retracted stories in other words. We can do it now i am thinking.
CraigAllenCorson
William H Lanteigne -- That was my thought exactly. These writers will have to learn sooner or later to stop using that word "never".
Wolf0579
The lack of change in gender bias is not surprising to me. The genders haven't changed their characteristics much during the study period. Males are generally more rational than females. Females are generally more emotional than males. I'd be interested in seeing women removed from the news business. Granted, men aren't as pretty, but men can give you the facts without emoting all over the place. I miss Mr. Cronkite, Mr. Rather and their peers.
JimmyDavis
Nothing new , the same cod have been gleaned by any student of history . Hopefully not too much money was wasted on this .
noteugene
Also without a doubt someday soon computers will be the ones making history without our input..
Dman528
Any iRobot movie fans of Will Smith seeing a potential "My Logic is Undeniable" scene taking place in our near future with Robot slaves being introduced in our homes and now an AI is studying our news history for research which is said that it has recognized trends in our history... If all patterns follow what our imaginations have already developed in a movie, it won't be long before slave robots create an uprising and a war between robots and humans... hopefully we also have a "you've so got to die" moment and someone destroys that AI source with nanobytes! I guess we'll wait and see!!
Kpar
Resistance is futile...
Chizzy
"What cannot be automated is the understanding of the implications of these findings for people," said Dr. Tom Lansdall-Welfare Bah... Technological truth is ever transient, limits will always eventually fall to the side.
GaryBaney
It's interesting to note that the "input" was limited. What if they introduced The National Enquirer or The Star or some other "alternative news format?"