Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, January 12, 2018

What New Technology Will Impact Genealogy?

January is the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. The largest such gathering in the world involves companies from all over the world. Will any of the sparklingly new technological developments affect the genealogical community? Well, yes as individual consumers, but as genealogists? Will we benefit from the giant screen TVs, self-driving cars, voice-controlled home appliances and virtual reality? Not likely. Was there really anything that will help us do our research or make our genealogical lives easier? Hmm.

Probably the biggest impact will come in gradual stages from developments in artificial intelligence. Although this term has been thrown around for a quite a while, the actual developments are subtle and beginning to be pervasive. Real efforts at developing computers that can perform some of the same operations as humans began back in the 1950s. The biggest limitations to any progress were computer hardware limitations. As computers became more sophisticated, their uses became more and more sophisticated also. Those self-driving cars and home voice-activated devices such as Alexa, Echo and Google Home, are the product of years of focusing on the problems associated with artificial intelligence.

Where does this technology show up in genealogy? One of the most dramatic implementations is found in the large online genealogy company's record hints. As the number of records searched and the sophistication of the record hints increases, eventually, much of the drudgery of plowing through routine research will be automated. Will computers eventually do all the work of linking our families? Again, not likely, at least not in the foreseeable future. Right now the greatest obstacle to real progress is the lack of a genealogically-based handwriting recognition technology that can be practically implemented in "reading" old handwritten records. Breaching this wall of handwriting will take even more computer power and more sophisticated programs than now exist.

What is evident in the genealogical community is that existing, well-developed technologies such as optical character recognition (OCR) and voice-recognition (VR) are vastly underused and ignored. There are millions of typed records online, already digitized, that are available only as images. The larger companies seem to rely on "indexing" more than OCR to provide searchable records. In doing this, they are years behind the current technology. If those involved in providing programs and databases to the genealogical community do not use current technology, how can we expect them to implement cutting-edge new technology?

One small development that did come out of CES this year will impact genealogists sooner rather than later. SanDisk announced the development of a 1 Terabyte flash drive and SD disk.

Now, we can have the convenience of losing an entire Terabyte of data when we leave our drive in a machine at the Library.

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