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Computer Network Piecing Together a Jigsaw of Jewish Lore

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Two men examine an image of a document fragment.

Roni Shweka, left, and his father, Yaacov Choueka, displaying a computerized fragment, one of about 100,000 collected over 1,000 years, that document Jewish life along the Mediterranean.

Credit: Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times

Scientists are using an artificial intelligence program operating on a powerful computer network to help reconstruct 157,514 document fragments collected over a millennium that reveal insights about Jewish life along the Mediterranean.

The effort includes more than 100 connected computers at Tel Aviv University, analyzing 500 visual cues for each of the fragments to check more than 12 billion possible pairings. The project estimates that the process, which commenced May 16, should be complete by about June 25.

Once the digital comparison of the 12 billion potential pairs is accomplished, the computer will produce lists of a few hundred probable joins, which must be verified by scholars or hobbyists.

Also under development is a jigsaw puzzle feature employing touchscreen technology that allows users to rotate, enlarge, and skew document fragments to see if they fit together.

"The thing [this technology] really makes possible is people from all walks of life, in academia and out, to look at unpublished material," says Cambridge University's Ben Outhwaite. "No longer are we going to see a few great scholarly names hoarding particular parts of the genizah and have to wait 20 years for their definitive publication. Now everyone can dive in."

From The New York Times
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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