03 February 2020

Living With Machines

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    In order to learn about our future we sometimes must look back at our past. Our researchers have done just that.

     

    Emma Griffin, Professor of Modern History at UEA, has collaborated on an ambitious project to look back on the first industrial revolution to aid understanding of present day attitudes towards artificial intelligence and robotics.

     

    This project intends to take a fresh perspective on the recognised history of the industrial revolution using data-driven approaches. The project has received a substantial £9.2 million investment and it is set to be one of the biggest humanities and science research initiatives ever to launch in the UK.

     

    “The project is an innovative interdisciplinary collaboration, harnessing the skills of data scientists as well as humanities scholars." 

    Prof Griffin.

     

    Humanity is currently experiencing a ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and the project is attempting to shed some light on debates around this. Living with Machines will bring together data scientists and software engineers from The Alan Turing Institute. Furthermore, historians from our University, as well as Exeter, Cambridge, and Queen Mary University of London will all collaborate on this project.

     

    The work is based on a methodical research philosophy that has been designed to evolve as the project progresses. The aim is to build new software that will be used to analyse data drawn from millions of pages of newspaper collections from within the archive of the British Library’s National Newspaper Building and from many other historical collections. The methods will allow linguists and historians to track societal and cultural changes in new ways during this transformative period in British History.

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    “As one of two historians on the team, it’s my role to help select historical data to work with and to shape the research questions."

    Prof. Griffin

     

    The collaborators of the project hope that the data-driven findings, relating to how attitudes to machines and mechanisation changed during the nineteenth century, could help present-day researchers and policy makers to understand and explore public understanding around current attitudes to new technologies. An example of these attitudes is the public opinion on autonomous vehicles or the use of artificial intelligence in everyday life.

     

    Professor Griffin explains her role in the project: "Most of the sources that the project will work with are well known to historians. However, most historians don’t have the time to work with very large datasets, so my role involves explaining to scientists how historians would like to work with particular records, and why it’s important to us.” The project will run for five years and there will be future calls and opportunities for researchers to get involved as it develops.