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Daily Dutch News in English

Dutch university to develop ‘history recorder’

The Faculty of Arts at VU University in the Netherlands has received a European grant of 2.8M euro to develop a ‘history recorder’.

A history recorder is a computer program that “reads” daily streams of news and stores exactly what happened, where and when in the world, and who was involved. The program uses the same strategy as humans by building up a story and merging it with previously stored information.

Rather than storing separate events, it stores a chain of events according to a story-line. Like humans, the program thus removes duplicate information and complements incomplete information in the news while reading. The result is a single story-line for all the events. Unlike humans, the recorder will not forget any detail, will be able to recall the complete and true story as it was told, know who told what part of the story, and identify what sources contradict each other.

Abundance of information
The history recorder can be seen as a new way of indexing and retrieving information that helps decision makers to handle billions of news items in archives and millions of incoming news items every day. Due to this abundance of information, current solutions simply result in long lists of potentially relevant items. It is up to the user to sift through these results: removing duplication, putting pieces together and separating correct from incorrect information. At the same time, it is often impossible to make truly well-informed decisions. The history recorder, however, is able to structure these results according to story lines, presenting the information as a single and complete history.

Insights in trends and perspectives
In addition to organizing news as stories, the recorder also has the capacity to abstract from individual stories and to find trends and patterns. For example, it can provide a quantified overview of types of companies that are involved in take-overs, in specific periods or regions, and can correlate that with changes in management and profits. Since it keeps track of all the original sources of information, the recorder can also provide insights into how the story was told. This will tell us about the different perspectives from which the media in different countries present our news, both the news of today and the news of the past.

The European project “NewsReader” is a collaboration of VU University with two European research institutes in Trento and San Sebastian and two companies, LexisNexis and ScraperWiki. The project is expected to start by the end of 2012 and will last three years.