Friday, January 26, 2007

Maps from books

Google's blog announced yesterday the addition of automatically generated maps for books.

For example, suppose you are reading the anonymous catalog International Medallic Exhibition of the American Numismatic Society. Click on 'About this book' and a new section, 'Places mentioned in this book' appears. It's a map of the world, with red pins sticking into it.

One of the pins is over Texas. Hover over the pin and a tooltip reading "Sabine Pass, Texas" appears. Click on the Texas pin and a balloon appears with an excerpt showing the details of medal 3395 and a page number. Click on the page number and page 242 appears with 'Sabine Pass, Texas' highlighted.

Not only is the technology amazing, but completely automated. No bibliographer typed in a list of cities into Google. An Artificial Intelligence figured this out on its own.

The flaws in this techology are obvious. Also on page 242 is a Washington medal of New Orleans, but New Orleans doesn't appear on the map. Presumably Google's software is looking for "(city), (state)" and "(city), (country)" patterns. It hasn't yet been taught the "(important city)" pattern.

It's an important start. I look forward to that day when Google can extract the ancient cities - polis - and map Greek coin books.

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