RTÉ to employ semantic web and big data to preserve Ireland’s memories

9 Apr 2013

Ireland’s State broadcaster RTÉ, as part of its strategy to preserve the memories of a nation in digital form, is to collaborate with SFI’s recently announced mega CSET the Insight Centre to employ big data and the semantic web to make hundreds of thousands of hours of audio and video content available at the touch of a button.

In a collaboration announced at the European Data Forum in Dublin this morning, RTÉ will work with the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) in Galway and the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) to make sure that content going back over 60 years can be accessed digitally.

RTE’s head of Archives Brid Dooley explained that at present, some 120,000 hours of audio, 200,000 hours of radio broadcasts, 250,000 hours of moving image material going back to the beginning of TV, as well as more than 500,000 unique images and 10,000 written documents need to be made available digitally.

She said the key is to ensure that the content can be accessed and discovered in a quality and trusted way that allows people to take advantage of the knowledge.

“Our aim is to use the best available research and technology using research projects happening in Ireland today to bring that insight to bear on what we do.

“Finding that content in the web world today is one thing but we’re excited about the opportunities of the semantic web because it will ultimately change how we work and how we serve citizens.”

Dooley said that enabling content discovery across a plethora of formats and standards is critical and linking the meta data properly will allow future users to also incorporate data from outside RTÉ’s domain to come up with more exact and holistic content discovery experiences.

Dr Sandra Collins of the DRI said the research and collaboration between RTÉ, DERI and DRI will occur under the auspices of the Insight Centre, one of the mega CSETs established under the Government’s multi-million investment in Ireland’s big data potential.

Collins said intention is to capture all the data that reflects society in Ireland and open that up to the people.

“It’s been hard work bringing everybody together and not only that everybody has different kinds of data in different standards and formats. What we are trying to do is work towards a common practice, as well as match international practices and establish the best practice for Ireland when it comes to the semantic web.

“We are acting as a kind of middleman to enable this data to be assembled, shared and opened up.

“To do that we need the best technologies and that’s why we are partnering with DERI. The mega CSET Insight Centre will help bring together the data analytics and tools for handling data. What we are interested in here is capturing the spirit of the nation. RTÉ’s broadcast archive is part of our identity and people will have an evocative connection with it.”

I put it to Prof Stefan Decker that big data is one of those buzzwords that are popular in the business and technology world right now and that ordinary citizens still need to understand what big data will ultimately mean in their lives.

“Big data will make businesses better informed, allowing them to take data from a myriad of sources and use in their own products, in their research and in making better informed decision.

“This will make it more cost effective to make new products but also use a variety of materials and sources. For example, someone could very easily put together a cultural exposition about James Joyce and source materials from his books, from RTÉ, museums – all dynamic, all in real-time.

“Another example could be an entrepreneur looking to start a crèche in a certain district – they could source demographics on child birth statistics from the area, the local economy’s employment figures – and decide if a new business could be opened or if it would fail. Other examples could be trying to get a clear picture of whether climate change is actually happening or not and seeing information over the years in its entirety.

“The stuff we are working on is to enable information to come together in a way that is more credible and transparent and which reflects society as a whole,” Becker explained.

He added that privacy is going to be an issue that is going to crop up more and more as big data weaves its way into our daily lives.

“Our work at DERI also focuses on whether we need regulation and policy discussions between the technologists, academics and policy-makers, for example, as big data and the semantic web become a reality.”

Keeping step with new business models and technologies

At the European Data Forum, Ireland’s Justice Minister Alan Shatter also alluded to the impact of big data on the country’s economy but also the need to ensure data protection and privacy keep step with the emerging technologies and business models.

“Analysing this explosion of data will revolutionise industries, such as manufacturing and pharmaceutical production, to further develop Europe’s data economy and create good sustainable jobs in Ireland,” Shatter said.

Shatter also spoke of the “need for a coherent and practical set of data protection rules at national and European Union levels.”

Referring to the “new, and increasingly common, risks for privacy” that arise from technological advances, he emphasised the importance of ensuring “that data protection standards keep pace with the emerging technologies and new business models.”

Progressing the new EU data protection regulation and securing agreement on its content, he stated, is “a priority of the Irish presidency of the European Union.”

Shatter concluded by saying: “Importantly, big data will have a huge societal impact with projects such as that proposed by the new Insight research centre in partnership with RTÉ Digital to explore the RTÉ archives, and open up avenues to investigate our cultural, historical, sporting and linguistic heritage and provide us with deep insights into what it means to be Irish.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years