Robotii la lectură

When robots read books By Sally Davies

Where do witches come from, and what do those places have in common? While browsing a large collection of traditional Danish folktales, the folklorist Timothy Tangherlini and his colleague Peter Broadwell, both at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to find out. Armed with a geographical index and some 30,000 stories, they developed WitchHunter, an interactive ‘geo-semantic’ map of Denmark that highlights the hotspots for witchcraft.

The system used artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to unearth a trove of surprising insights. For example, they found that evil sorcery often took place close to Catholic monasteries. This made a certain amount of sense, since Catholic sites in Denmark were tarred with diabolical associations after the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. By plotting the distance and direction of witchcraft relative to the storyteller’s location, WitchHunter also showed that enchantresses tend to be found within the local community, much closer to home than other kinds of threats. ‘Witches and robbers are human threats to the economic stability of the community,’ the researchers write. ‘Yet, while witches threaten from within, robbers are generally situated at a remove from the well-described village, often living in woods, forests, or the heath … it seems that no matter how far one goes, nor where one turns, one is in danger of encountering a witch.’

Such ‘computational folkloristics’ raise a big question: what can algorithms tell us about the stories we love to read? Any proposed answer seems to point to as many uncertainties as it resolves, especially as AI technologies grow in power. Can literature really be sliced up into computable bits of ‘information’, or is there something about the experience of reading that is irreducible? Could AI enhance literary interpretation, or will it alter the field of literary criticism beyond recognition? And could algorithms ever derive meaning from books in the way humans do, or even produce literature themselves?


Bookish fools By Frank Furedi

It is Saturday, 1 November 2014. I am book-browsing at Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue in New York City when my attention is caught by a collection of beautifully produced volumes. I look closer and realise that these books are part of what’s called the Leatherbound Classic series. An assistant informs me that these fine specimens help to ‘embellish your book collection’. Since this exchange, I am reminded time and again that, as symbols of cultural refinement, books really matter. And, though we are meant to be living in a digital age, the symbolic significance of the book continues to enjoy cultural valuation. That is why, often when I do a television interview at home or in my university office, I am asked to stand in front of my bookshelf and pretend to be reading one of the texts.

Since the invention of the cuneiform system of writing in Mesopotamia around 3500 BCE and of hieroglyphics in Egypt around 3150 BCE, the serious reader of texts has enjoyed cultural acclamation. The clay tablets on which marks and signs were inscribed were regarded as precious and sometimes sacred artefacts. The ability to decipher and interpret the symbols and signs was seen as an extraordinary accomplishment. Egyptian hieroglyphics were thought to possess magical powers and, to this day, many readers regard books as a medium for gaining a spiritual experience. Since text possesses so much symbolic significance, how people read and what they read is widely perceived as an important feature of their identity. Reading has always been a marker of character, which is why people throughout history have invested considerable cultural and emotional resources in cultivating identities as lovers of books.


Ieri am cumparat o carte si un covrig, total 1.50 lei, eh, prima editie 1972 a notelor de curs, cu o introducere „politica” dar foarte interesanta si un exlibris Dr. O. Enachescu.


Lecturi de vară

The End of the Ambitious Summer Reading List by Lee Siegel

I’m sitting in the bedroom of a rented cottage in Maine as my wife and our two young children eat breakfast downstairs. Outside, a pearl-gray fog unfurls gently over the water. Foghorns blare. Seagulls shriek. Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” calls out to me. G.F. Young’s “The Medici” sings its siren song. Van Wyck Brooks’s “New England: Indian summer” purrs.

Ah, the summer reading list! The stress of work is giving way, at last, to the stress of leisure.

Another summer, another vacation, another vow to myself to finish three classic works of literature and history that I began reading, let me see, about 14 years ago. Or was it 18 years ago? Could it really be 35?

I’ve lost track, no doubt because somewhere in that span of time, there were other literary obligations to dispatch during the precious weeks of summer reading—from Proust’s massive novel “Remembrance of Things Past” to Charles and Mary Beard’s “The Rise of American Civilization.” Not to mention the classic volume by Brooks on the New England literary tradition, that romantic “Indian summer” which I have tried to get through, summer after summer.