In her TEDtalk, Fei Fei Li proposes to teach computers how to decipher images the way we teach children. Of course, the machines are unable to gather the needed data themselves, so the starting point of this experiment was to provide them with over billion categorized, described images that were meant to trigger the learning process in the computer. Using Big Data to train computer algorithms doesn’t seem as revolutionary to us now, but certainly it took some time to adjust to the idea that learning of computer could be similar to that of a child – if we tell it what the object is enough times, eventually it will learn how to do it by itself. But is it the right approach? I can see the appeal of such trained machine, how useful it could be in a research that looks at large data sets and how dramatically it could speed up the analysis process. Although I enthusiastically cheer for technological progress I cannot help but worry that we might loose some of the most valuable information, one I keep going back to in nearly every post: socio-cultural context.
Category: Digital Artefacts
Probably the most frivolous aspect of metadata is the widely favourited, simplistic definition: “data about data”. Beyond this pun-like generalisation, there isn’t much space left for shortcuts or frivolity, since the best metadata standard is one that has strictly defined categories, controlled vocabularies and lack of unauthorised alterations. Metadata describes what the digital object is and what does it contain, which significantly increases both searchability and discoverability of it. Which, in turn, makes sharing and re-using existing digital object much easier.
The most difficult part of an analysis of a photograph is the realization that it never exists in a contextual vacuum. Chosen subject, technique used and execution of the shot contains a lot of valuable information about the photograph as a material object, but also about the social meaning behind it. Although the focus of an audience automatically goes to the captured image, it is important not only to ponder upon the reason of why this and not other image was chosen by the author, but also to understand in what context its physical copy exists. Hence, one could argue that the most challenging aspect of digitalization of a photograph, especially historical ones, lies in preserving this contextual materiality.