Microsoft implementing AI in creating archive of Ben-Gurion's handwritten works

Dr. Tomer Simon, national technology officer at Microsoft Israel, will be overseeing the implementation of the new system to make accessible some 20,000 pages of written over nearly seven decades.

November 6, 2019 11:51
2 minute read.
Dr. Adi Portughies presents an AI-based tool for the analysis of the Ben-Gurion Archive developed by

Dr. Adi Portughies presents an AI-based tool for the analysis of the Ben-Gurion Archive developed by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Microsoft Israel. (photo credit: PR)

As a part of a joint initiative between Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Microsoft, the historical handwritten and printed works of the school's namesake, former prime minister David Ben-Gurion, will be easily searchable and available to researchers with a plan to create an all-ecompassing archive of the work using artificial intelligence (AI).

Ben-Gurion kept meticulous records of the events that shaped the formation and early days of the Jewish state.

The diaries of the iconic founding father, some 20,000 pages of primary sources written over nearly seven decades, provide both a personal account of his life and an invaluable document for researchers of Zionism and Israeli history.

In a pioneering move over 20 years ago, the Ben-Gurion Archive digitized the thousands of diary pages and other historical records. While accessible online to all, the sheer quantity of raw data has made comprehensive searching prohibitively difficult. the archive is located at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism at the Sde Boker campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

But a groundbreaking partnership between BGU and Microsoft Israel launched two tools on Monday to “bring the archive to life.” The technologies are intended to provide greater insight to researchers and students alike – allowing them to search through the entirety of his physical archive.

Dr. Tomer Simon, national technology officer at Microsoft Israel, will be overseeing the implementation of the new artificial intelligence-based system, which will now allow researchers the ability to pinpoint specific works of the former prime minister with ease.

“This is a remarkable and innovative project that will benefit researchers and scholars worldwide. While it is a thrill to see the actual diaries in a visit to the Ben-Gurion Archives, this project will bring to life the works of Israel’s founding prime minister in a more accessible way," said Doug Seserman, chief executive officer of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The intelligence technology will establish casual vectors and similarities between the archived works, involve technical tracing techniques and technology throughout the tumultuous yet thorough trove, and eventually connect these documents through an interactive map. Microsoft will also merge Ben-Gurion's diary entries into Microsoft Outlook, so that users may discover what the former prime minister did on "that particular day and get a sense over time of how Israel's most legendary leader made decisions."

The tool, currently in its pilot stages, will enable previously impossible in-depth assessment of historical documents within minutes.

The Ben-Gurion Archive and Microsoft Israel commenced the pilot program by applying its machine-learning solution to Ben-Gurion’s English-language correspondence with foreign leaders and members of the public following the Six Day War of June 1967. Hebrew-language sources, covering decades of Israeli and pre-state history, will be added in due course.

This is the second such archive initiative Microsoft has undertaken, the first being the declassified documents regarding the assassination of former US President John F. Kennedy, released in 2017 following an act of Congress.

The vast majority of the “JFK Files” collection – approximately 88% to date – has been released to the public, including documents withheld by the FBI, CIA and other agencies.

“We want to share the knowledge and develop new tools,” said Dr. Adi Portughies, head of infrastructure information systems at the Ben-Gurion Archives. “The main vision is to create an ecosystem for Israel studies in which researchers, scholars, archivists and database administrators can share their databases.”

Eytan Halon contributed to this report.

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