Digital Humanities

The Digital Humanities conference that just concluded in Hanover from 5-7 Dec. 2013 was a huge success, and brought new insight into the topic. Organized by the VolkswagenStiftung, the events drew participants from all over the world with the aim of understanding the opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the field of Humanities. One obvious takeaway from discussions at the conference is that digitalization of data has tremendous advantages, even though there maybe some downsides. Speaking for instance on Big Data, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger cited some of the transformations going on in the scientific world as a result of big data. With the example of Google machine translation, he pointed out how remarkable improvements were made from previous translation solutions as a result of Google’s use of massive amount of data on the Internet. Other speakers also pointed out that digitalization offers a solution for storing and achieving tremendous and exponential amount of data generated daily. Not only as a cheap way of storage, but also it makes data ubiquitous in multimedia. Visualization technologies, semantic web, data curation, Internet, etc have all brought new horizon to the field of Humanities. However, it was also pointed out that some vital and important data is still locked-up in some proprietary cages, requiring appropriate licensing in order to make them accessible for the  purpose of advancing human knowledge. The EU public consultation on reform of copyright is thus seen as a good development.

Some discussions however pointed out some downsides of this digital transformation of data in the Humanities. Some scholars believe that in computational linguistics for instance, more data may not always produce better results as linguistics is more about precision than numbers. There was also the issue of accuracy of machine translations, for example, of poetic languages, where authors make conscious deviation from norms. The big question then is how would a machine capture poetic emotions? The potential of loosing certain values in the quest for digitalization is not ruled out in this transition.

Apart from this various panel discussions, various projects were equally showcased such as duolingo – an app for learning languages,  and other PhD projects by humanities students.

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