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Ph.D. student Benjamin Lee named Library of Congress Innovator in Residence

Benjamin Lee (right) poses with fellow Innovator in Residence Brian Foo in Washington, D.C. Kinedy Aristud, Library of Congress

Benjamin Lee, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Allen School’s Artificial Intelligence group working with professor Daniel Weld, has been named a 2020 Innovator in Residence by the Library of Congress. Now in its second year, the Innovator in Residence program aims to enlist artists, researchers, journalists, and others in developing new and creative ways of using the library’s digital collections.

During his residency, Lee will apply deep learning to enable the automatic extraction and tagging of photographs and illustrations contained in the more than 15 million newspaper scans comprising the library’s Chronicling America collection. His goal is to produce interactive visualizations, searchable by topic, that will make the content more accessible to users and support cultural heritage research.

“A primary motivation behind my project is to excite the American public by demonstrating the possibilities of applying machine learning to library collections,” Lee explained in an interview posted on the library’s blog. “Given the widespread enthusiasm about machine learning, this project could draw new people to the Library of Congress’s digital collections, as well as excite the Library’s regular users about emerging technological advances. My hope is that this project could also inspire members of the public to start their own coding projects involving the Library of Congress’s digital collections.”

Lee is no stranger to combining technology and culture, having first developed an interest in digital humanities as an undergraduate at Harvard College. That led to a year-long fellowship at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he used machine learning to enable new ways for users and researchers to search the archives of the International Tracing Service. His journey into this line of research was a deeply personal one, inspired by his grandmother who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp during the Holocaust.

Lee previously earned a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation to support his work at the Allen School on explainable artificial intelligence and human-AI interaction. He is one of only two Innovators in Residence named by the library this year; the other, Brian Foo, is a data visualization artist at the American Museum of Natural History who plans to make interesting and culturally relevant material from the library’s audio and moving image collections more accessible to the public by embedding it into hip hop music.

Read the Library of Congress press release here, and an interview with Lee and Foo here. Learn more about the Innovator in Residence program here.

Congratulations, Ben!