Explained: how experts recreated old Amsterdam using archive documents

In partnership with The European Commission
Explained: how experts recreated old Amsterdam using archive documents
By Julian GOMEZ
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New artificial intelligence techniques can read paperwork, maps and photographs

European researchers are inviting us to travel back in time to explore the evolution of our cities and our landmark monuments.

But just how is that possible?

Julia Noordegraaf is a professor of digital heritage and responsible for the TimeMachine initiative in Amsterdam. She explains how the technology works.

"We work first with geographical information systems. Those are kind of intelligent maps so you have a digital map of the city of Amsterdam with all the houses and streets pinpointed on them. And that allows to connect all the cultural heritage data we have of the city — photographs, texts, all sorts of things — to the specific places which they depict or describe.

"In addition to that we have 3D modelling techniques. On one hand, to create models of the entire city as it evolved over time. And on the other hand, to reconstruct individual houses, cinema theatres or other important locations in the history of the city.

"We also use techniques for analysing texts or other kinds of data automatically so that instead of reading a sample set of documents, you can look at the households of all Amsterdamers and see how many paintings they owned, where those were located, and so on".

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