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Unleashing Big Data of the Past – Europe builds a Time Machine

Excited and proud to share great news!

The European Commission has chosen Time Machine as one of the six proposals retained for preparing large scale research initiatives to be strategically developed in the next decade. Huygens ING and International Institute of Social History (partners in the KNAW Humanities Cluster) are closely involved in this project. €1 million in funding has been granted for preparing the detailed roadmaps of this initiative that aims at extracting and utilising the Big Data of the past. Time Machine foresees to design and implement advanced new digitisation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to mine Europe’s vast cultural heritage, providing fair and free access to information that will support future scientific and technological developments in Europe.

A new age for Social Sciences and Humanities
Time Machine will mark a new age for Social Sciences and Humanities, as it will offer open access to Europe’s past via unified data and new AI services. This will give “super powers” to researchers by revolutionising the individual researcher’s search capabilities, drastically raising the overall scale and scope of social sciences and humanities research. The resulting knowledge will enable the field to effectively contribute to the development of strategic answers to major pan-European challenges such as sustainable growth, social welfare, migration and integration of migrants, and the safeguarding of European democracy.

One of the most advanced Artificial Intelligence systems ever built
The Time Machine will create advanced AI technologies to make sense of vast amounts of information from complex historical data sets. This will enable the transformation of fragmented data – with content ranging from medieval manuscripts and historical objects to smartphone and satellite images – into useable knowledge for industry. In essence, a large-scale computing and digitisation infrastructure will map Europe’s entire social, cultural and geographical evolution. Considering the unprecedented scale and complexity of the data, The Time Machine’s AI even has the potential to create a strong competitive advantage for Europe in the global AI race.

“Time Machine is likely to become one of the most advanced Artificial Intelligence systems ever built, trained on data from wider geographical and temporal horizons”, explains Frederic Kaplan, Professor of Digital Humanities at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Coordinator of the Time Machine Project.

A unique alliance and a network of cities
Time Machine promotes a unique alliance of leading European academic and research organisations, Cultural Heritage institutions and private enterprises that are fully aware of the huge potential of digitisation and the very promising new paths for science, technology and innovation that can be opened through the information system that will be developed, based on the Big Data of the Past.  In addition to the 33 core institutions that will be funded by the European Commission, more than 200 organisations from 33 countries are participating to the initiatives, including seven national libraries (Austria, Belgium, France, Israel, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland), 19 state archives (Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary,Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Slovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland), famous museums (Louvre, Rijkmuseum), 95 academic and research institutions, 30 European companies and 18 governmental bodies.

Time Machine is also a growing network of cities. The project is based on a “franchise” operation model grouping scholars, cultural heritage organisations, government bodies and large groups of volunteers around specific integrated projects focusing on cities.  The engagement of a large number of volunteers, often local citizens, in these Local Time Machine initiatives is another key element to ensure their long-term sustainability of the project. Local Time Machines are currently being developed in Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, Jerusalem, Budapest, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Dresden, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Naples, Utrecht, Limburg and more.  In the next 12 months, Time Machine is expected to grow as a large community of communities, sharing a standardised platform, with more empowering tools.