Catching Shakespeare

Technology fascinates me, in part because I know relatively little about how it works, and I want to know more. The potential for responsible use of technology as a supplement to literary study is particularly interesting. The challenge, as I see it, is to keep technology in its proper place as a supplement, not a replacement for genuine thought.

That’s one reason I’ve chosen Plagiarism Software Finds a New Shakespeare Play by Gaelle Fauer in Time Magazine for the next ProfoundNet. Here’s a snippet:

Plagiarism-detection software was created with lazy, sneaky college students in mind — not the likes of William Shakespeare. Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III…. With a program called Pl@giarism, [Sir Brian Vickers, a literature professor at the University of London] detected 200 strings of three or more words in Edward III that matched phrases in Shakespeare’s other works.

As Vickers reminds readers, computers can’t do the work alone – human knowledge, skill, and judgment are still an integral part of the process. He says what he is hoping to do is “bring about a marriage between human reading and machine reading. If you distrust computers, you won’t advance at all; if you have just computers and know nothing about literature, you’re likely to go wrong as well.”

To me, this is a great example of using technology to advance the work of humans, rather than allowing technology to assume the role of primary agent and in the process rendering humans the subject of a passive sentence.

Thanks, Gaelle , for a thought-provoking article.


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