Hardcore AI for History with Mark Humphries, History Professor at Wilfred Laurier University

Professor Mark Humphries discusses overcoming challenges in archival history with AI, and his pioneering use of AI in historical research and education.


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Video Description

Mark Humphries is a Professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he has published widely on various aspects of Canadian history. You'll learn a bit about how history is done, and hear about some of the idiosyncratic challenges Mark has had to overcome on his path to an AI agent for archival history.  This is practically valuable knowledge that generalizes to other domains. If you need an ecommerce platform, check out our sponsor Shopify: https://shopify.com/cognitive for a $1/month trial period.

We invited Mark to do an episode after he reached out to tell us that hearing about how Nathan fine-tuned GPT-3.5 on GPT-4 reasoning helped him get over some hurdles in his own archival research.  In addition, he chats about all the things that he'd tried that hadn't worked, and in the process proved himself to be one of the world's leading adopters of AI technology in the field of history.  A click to his blog showed that he's also been an early explorer of how to use LLMs in classroom settings, having experimented with different policies and guidelines over the course of two semesters now.  

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LINKS:Mark’s Substack, Generative History: https://generativehistory.substack.com/


(00:00:00) - Episode Preview: Intro to Mark Humphries and his experience adopting AI as a historian
(00:03:00) - The state of AI in history before recent advances like GPT-3
(00:06:00) - Mark's background and how he first got interested in AI
(00:09:00) - Using AI to process and search through vast amounts of archival material
(00:12:00) - The challenges of digitizing and searching handwritten historical documents
(00:15:00) - The massive scale of undiscovered archival material that could be processed by AI
(00:18:00) - How AI can help historians process more archival material than ever before
(00:20:11) - Sponsors: Netsuite | Omneky
(00:21:00) - Limitations on using commercial APIs for private archival documents
(00:24:00) - The cost of processing archival documents compared to hiring human transcribers
(00:27:00) - Comparing GPT's ability to transcribe historical handwriting vs more recent scripts
(00:33:00) - Mark's work tracing individuals through complex fur trade records using AI
(00:36:00) - Mark's approach to fine-tuning models for specific historical tasks
(00:39:00) - Challenges teaching AI models the nuances of historical writing
(00:42:00) - Privacy issues limiting the use of commercial APIs on restricted archival material
(00:45:00) - The gap between people's expectations of AI and what it can really do right now
(00:51:00) - Adapting assignments and student expectations to AI's current capabilities
(00:52:28) - Using chain of thought prompting to teach models precise historical tasks
(00:52:46) - Getting high accuracy on keyword tagging of archival documents using fine-tuning
(00:57:00) - Mark has crossed the threshold from promise to accelerating archival research
(01:00:00) - How to frame classification tasks to get the most value from AI models
(01:03:00) - Teaching AI models to pronounce tricky historical names and terms
(01:06:19) - Mark's experience using AI in the classroom over two semesters
(01:09:00) - Assignments that are better suited to the current strengths and weaknesses of AI
(01:10:27) - Changing student budgets towards AI instead of textbooks
(01:11:45) - AI progress in education is lagging due to lack of institutional adoption
(01:12:00) - The trajectory of AI capabilities and the need for humans to exceed the model baseline
(01:27:49) - Lessons from history on economic transitions and the social contract

The Cognitive Revolution is brought to you by the Turpentine Media network.
Producer: Vivian Meng
Executive Producers: Amelia Salyers, and Erik Torenberg
Editor: Graham Bessellieu
For inquiries about guests or sponsoring the podcast, please email vivian@turpentine.co

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