I’m reporting live from the Italian conference on artificial intelligence (AI*IA’07) in Rome (well, Villa Mondrogone in Frascati, with a view on Rome). My own paper on abstractions is rather distant from near-immediate applicability in daily life, so I’ll leave that be and instead write about an entertaining co-located workshop about applying AI technologies for the benefit of cultural heritage that, e.g., improve tourists’ experience and satisfaction when visiting the many historical sites, museums, and buildings that are all over Italy (and abroad).
I can remember well the handheld guide at the Alhambra back in 2001, which had a story by Mr. Irving at each point of interest, but there was only one long story and the same one for every visitor. Current research in AI & cultural heritage looks into solving issues how this can be personalized and be more interactive; several directions are being investigated how this can be done. This ranges from the amount of information provided at each point of interest (e.g., for the art buff, casual American visitor who ‘does’ a city in a day or two, or narratives for children), to location-aware information display (the device will detect which point of interest you are closest to), to cataloguing and structuring the vast amount of archeological information, to the software monitoring Oetzi the Iceman. The remainder of this blog post describes some of the many behind-the-scenes AI technologies that aim to give a tourist the desired amount of relevant information at the right time and right place (see the workshop website for the list of accepted papers). I’ll add more links later; any misunderstandings are mine (the workshop was held in Italian).
First something that relates somewhat to bioinformatics/ecoinformatics: the RoBotanic , which is a robot guide for botanical gardens – not intended to replace a human, but as an add-on that appeals in particular to young visitors and get them interested in botany and plant taxonomy. The technology is based on the successful ciceRobot that has been tested in the Archeological Museum Agrigento, but having to operate outside in a botanical garden (in Palermo), new issues have to be resolved, such as tuff powder, irregular surface, lighting, and leaves that interfere with the GPS system (for the robot to stop at plants of most interest). Currently, the RoBotanic provides one-way information, but in the near-future interaction will be built in so that visitors can ask questions as well (ciceRobot is already interactive). Both the RoBotanic and ciceRobot are customized off-the shelf robots.
Continuing with the artificial, there were three presentations about virtual reality. VR can be a valuable add-on to visualize lost or severely damaged property, timeline visualizations of rebuilding over old ruins (building a church over a mosque or vice versa was not uncommon), to prepare future restorations, and general reconstruction of the environment, all based on the real archeological information (not Hollywood fantasy and screenwriting). The first presentation  explained how the virtual reality tour of the Church of Santo Stefano in Bologna was made, using Creator, Vega, and many digital photos that served for the texture-feel in the VR tour.  provided technical details and software customization for VR & cultural heritage. On the other hand, the third presentation  was from a scientific point most interesting and too full of information to cover it all here. E. Bonini et al. investigated if, and if yes how, VR can give added-value. Current VR being insufficient for the cultural heritage domain, they look at how one can do an “expansion of reality” to give the user a “sense of space”. MUDing on the via Flaminia Antica in the virtual room in the National Museum in Rome should be possible soon (CNR-ITABC project started). Another issue came up during the concluded Appia Antica project for Roman era landscape VR: behaviour of, e.g., animals are now pre-coded and become boring to the user quickly. So, what these VR developers would like to see (i.e., future work) is to have technologies for autonomous agents integrated with VR software in order to make the ancient landscape & environment more lively: artificial life in the historical era one wishes, based on – and constrained by – scientific facts so as to be both useful for science and educational & entertaining for interested laymen.
A different strand of research is that of querying & reasoning, ontologies, planning and constraints.
Arbitrarily, I’ll start with the SIRENA project in Naples (the Spanish Quarter) , which aims to provide automatic generation of maintenance plans for historical residential buildings in order to make the current manual plans more efficient, cost effective, and maintain them just before a collapse. Given the UNI 8290 norms for technical descriptions of parts of buildings, they made an ontology, and used FLORA-2, Prolog, and PostgreSQL to compute the plans. Each element has its own interval for maintenance, but I didn’t see much of the partonomy, and don’t know how they deal with the temporal aspects. Another project  also has an ontology, in OWL-DL, but is not used for DL-reasoning reasoning yet. The overall system design, including use of Sesame, Jena, SPARQL can be read here and after server migration, their portal for the archeological e-Library will be back online. Another component is the webGIS for pre- and proto-historical sites in Italy, i.e., spatio-temporal stuff, and the hope is to get interesting inferences – novel information – from that (e.g., discover new connections between epochs). A basic online accessible version of webGIS is already running for the Silk Road.
A third different approach and usage of ontologies was presented in . With the aim of digital archive interoperability in mind, D’Andrea et al. took the CIDOC-CRM common reference model for cultural heritage and enriched it with DOLCE D&S foundational ontology to better describe and subsequently analyse iconographic representations, from, in this particular work, scenes and reliefs from the meroitic time in Egypt.
With In.Tou.Sys for intelligent tourist systems  we move to almost-industry-grade tools to enhance visitor experience. They developed software for PDAs one takes around in a city, which then through GPS can provide contextualized information to the tourist, such as the building you’re walking by, or give suggestions for the best places to visit based on your preferences (e.g., only baroque era, or churches, or etc). The latter uses a genetic algorithm to compute the preference list, the former a mix of RDBMS on the server-side, OODBMS on the client (PDA) side, and F-Logic for the knowledge representation. They’re now working on the “admire” system, which has a time component built in to keep track of what the tourist has visited before so that the PDA-guide can provide comparative information. Also for city-wide scale and guiding visitors is the STAR project , bit different from the previous, it combines the usual tourist information and services – represented in a taxonomy, partonomy, and a set of constraints – with problem solving and a recommender system to make an individualized agenda for each tourist; so you won’t stand in front of a closed museum, be alerted of a festival etc. A different PDA-guide system was developed in the PEACH project for group visits in a museum. It provides limited personalized information, canned Q & A, and visitors can send messages to their friend and tag points of interest that are of particular interest.
Utterly different from the previous, but probably of interest to the linguistically-oriented reader is philology & digital documents. Or: how to deal with representing multiple versions of a document? Poets and authors write and rewrite, brush up, strike through etc. and it is the philologist task to figure out what constitutes a draft version. Representing the temporality and change of documents (words, order of words, notes about a sentence) is another problem, which  attempts to solve by representing it as a PERT/CPM graph structure augmented with labeling of edges, the precise definition of a ‘variant graph’, and a the method of compactly storing it (ultimately stored in XML). The test case as with a poem from Valerio Magrelli.
The proceedings will be put online soon (I presume), is also available on CD (contact the WS organizer Luciana Bordoni), and probably several of the articles are online on the author’s homepages.
 A. Chella, I. Macaluso, D. Peri, L. RianoRoBotanic: a Robot Guide for Botanical Gardens. Early Steps.
 G.Adorni. 3D Virtual Reality and the Cultural Heritage.
 M.C.Baracca, E.Loreti, S.Migliori, S.Pierattini. Customizing Tools for Virtual Reality Applications in the Cultural Heritage Field.
 E. Bonini, P. Pierucci, E. Pietroni. Towards Digital Ecosystems for the Transmission and Communication of Cultural Heritage: an Epistemological Approach to Artificial Life.
 A.Calabrese, B. Como, B Discepolo, L. Ganguzza , L. Licenziato, F. Mele, M. Nicolella, B. Stangherling, A. Sorgente, R Spizzuoco. Automatic Generation of Maintenance Plans for Historical Residential Buildings.
 A.Bonomi, G. Mantegari, G.Vizzari. Semantic Querying for an Archaeological E-library.
 A. D’Andrea, G. Ferrandino, A. Gangemi. Shared Iconographical Representations with Ontological Models.
 L. Bordoni, A. Gisolfi, A. Trezza. INTOUSYS: a Prototype Personalized Tourism System.
 D.Magro. Integrated Promotion of Cultural Heritage Resources.
 D. Schmidt, D. Fiormonte. Multi-Version Documents:a Digitisation Solution for Textual Cultural Heritage Artefacts