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Microsoft Advances Ben-Gurion Archives With AI

Microsoft Advances Ben-Gurion Archives With AI

September 24, 2019

Israel Studies, Culture & Jewish Thought

The Jerusalem Post — A groundbreaking partnership between Ben-Gurion University and  Microsoft Israel has just launched two tools that will “bring to life” the Ben-Gurion Archives, the world-class collection of historical documents housed at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism on BGU’s Sede Boqer campus.  The technologies are intended to provide greater insight to researchers and students alike.

Dr. Adi Portughies presents an AI-based tool for the analysis of the Ben-Gurion Archives developed by BGU and Microsoft Israel. (photo credit: PR)

Together, the partners developed an advanced artificial intelligence-based system that will ultimately enable users to search the entire Archives, including both printed and handwritten materials, and construct causal relations; trace issues and ideas through multiple documents; and identify relationships between individuals and concepts through an interactive map.

Housed in the Archives are Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s meticulously kept records of the events that shaped the formation and early days of the Jewish state. The diaries of the iconic founding father, some 20,000 pages of primary sources written over nearly seven decades, provide both a personal account of his life and an invaluable document for researchers of Zionism and Israeli history.

In a pioneering move over 20 years ago, the Ben-Gurion Archives digitized thousands of diary pages and other historical records. The entire archive contains 5 million items that reflect the Zionist movement and the history of Israel from 1900 to 1973.

While accessible online to all, the sheer quantity of raw data has made comprehensive searching prohibitively difficult. The Microsoft tool, currently in its pilot stages, will enable previously impossible in-depth assessment of historical documents within minutes.

The Ben-Gurion Archives and Microsoft Israel commenced the pilot program by applying its machine-learning solution to Ben-Gurion’s English-language correspondence with foreign leaders and members of the public following the Six-Day War of June 1967. Hebrew-language sources, covering decades of Israeli and pre-state history, will be added in due course.

Dr. Adi Portughies, head of the Ben-Gurion Archives and the Department of Infrastructure Information Systems at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism

“We want to share the knowledge and to develop new tools,” said Dr. Adi Portughies, head of the Institute’s Infrastructure Information Systems department.

“The main vision is to create an ecosystem where researchers, scholars, archivists, and database administrators can share their databases. They can apply their tools and make a digital ecosystem for Israel studies.”

A second tool integrates Ben-Gurion’s diary entries into Microsoft Outlook. Users can return to periods of interest in Israel’s history on Outlook’s calendar and see the first Israeli premier’s diary entries according to the day and hour when they were written.

To date, Microsoft has only applied its machine-learning solution to one other archive: the thousands of documents relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Read more on the Jerusalem Post website>>