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Artificial intelligence (AI), resurgent in an era of Alexa and Siri, is transforming whole industries. Increasingly cheap and easy to use, AI seems to offer almost limitless potential to archivists. Machine learning technologies offer archives radical new capabilities and possibilities, while the challenges of appraisal, selection and sensitivity review of born-digital records might only be solvable through AI.
Use artificial intelligence (AI) to help create two nights of experimental programming on network BBC TV on BBC Four, by delving into the treasures of the vast BBC Archive. And then dig deeper, and use AI and machine learning to create mini-BBC Four style segments in a programme presented by Hannah Fry, to illustrate how the technology works.
So why were we doing it? Here at R&D we’re already exploring how AI and machine learning technologies could transform the future of media production, and are always looking to work with programme makers to support and future proof the BBC.
The BBC has one of the largest broadcast archives in the world, and manually searching millions of programme hours is near impossible. It’d take decades for one person to watch them all.
The increasing digitisation of the archive gives us the opportunity to develop AI tech to help filmmakers and schedulers find hidden gems – programmes and content that may otherwise not be seen again, or overlooked. And we are able to utilize the speed of machines to help us, as a computer’s gaze is much faster than ours and can scan a years’ worth of TV in a couple of days.
R&D have previously worked with BBC Four, so it was a great to collaborate again and we agreed with BBC Four Editor Cassian Harrison that artificial intelligence, an emerging trend, would be a great choice. Two ideas were finally selected that could make their working lives easier and complement their schedule best. And so BBC 4.1 was born.
First, we would use machine learning to pick out likely shows for an evening’s entertainment on BBC Four from the vast BBC Archive. The channel’s scheduler would then use this list to select what would be broadcast.
Now BBC Four is quite a distinctive channel, so we’ve had to create the new technology ourselves, drawing on the work of developers around the world. It’s been done in-house by R&D and can’t be bought off the shelf. It’s in its early stages and we’ve been working with academics to refine it, including one from Mexico who is working on a PhD about teaching computers to enjoy television.
The AI examined the programmes that BBC Four had shown in the past and their attributes, analyzing their descriptions and subjects – be it music, history or science. Computers trawled through more than 270,000 programmes across the archive that were available in digital form, ranking the top 150 most relevant factual ones by what you could call their ‘BBC Four-ness’. Schedulers then used the list to select those to show across two nights, the 4th and 5th September 2018.