Library AI Initiative


The vision of a library driven by artificial intelligence (AI) which Ed Feigenbaum shared thirty years ago may be upon us sooner than he predicted. The machine-augmented human intelligence work, or ‘narrow’ AI that Feigenbaum envisioned for the library is a practical application of search and pattern matching.  This is distinguished from the more philosophically engaging and, so far unattainable, ‘general’ AI that some futurists anticipate will surpass human intelligence. The potential applications of narrow AI within the Library are clear: machines can discover patterns and make classifications in images, text, and audio, much faster and more efficiently than humans.  We are creating and collecting information today at a pace that is not sustainable without power tools to do the mundane work so that Library staff can attend to the creative and intellectually engaging  work of making information useful for research and teaching.

Though there is still no consensus about the definition of AI, AI techniques are already transforming knowledge management and knowledge production. Andrew Ing describes AI as the new electricity; not just a new technology, but a technology that will fundamentally change existing systems. In anticipation of that not so distant future, the Library’s AI program must be, from the very beginning, purpose-driven rather than technology-driven, to protect us from moving rapidly down a path of a solution seeking a problem. It is not a digital library project, but a library project that brings everyone into the conversation, the planning, and the implementation.

Nicole Coleman

Catherine Nicole Coleman

Digital Research Architect
Research Director, Humanities + Design
(650) 575-9958