Innovation & Enterprise


Bentham Hacked! IBM technology unlocks the works of Jeremy Bentham at UCL

31 October 2017

Tech-savvy teams from UCL, IBM and members of the public came together for an interactive weekend of hacking at UCL’s entrepreneurial hub BaseKX.

Bentham Hackathon

Six teams played their part in hacking the works of philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham (whose ideas contributed to the founding of UCL).

Hosted by UCL’s Innovation & Enterprise team in partnership with IBM, the Transcribe Bentham team and the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities, the Hackathon challenged teams to use IBM technology to find innovative ways of understanding Bentham’s works.

Bentham penned more than 100,000 pages of manuscripts - transcribing, navigating and analysing them has been the focus of Transcribe Bentham, a UCL research project run in conjunction with the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities and part of the Faculty of Laws.

Professor Philip Scofield, Director of the Bentham Project, said: “I was both humbled and gratified to see how the hackers took on our challenges, and how our friends from IBM helped and engaged with them. The Bentham Project intends to build on the undoubted success of this event – we have already started talking about how to maintain the momentum. A big thank you to everyone involved.”

IBM’s Simon Baker said: “We are very grateful to the Transcribe Bentham Project for enabling us to be a part of the UCL Bentham Hackathon. Our digital assets were made available for the developers to gain access via the IBM Bluemix platform writing applications, back-end services and web interfaces. Many of the team used Watson Natural Language Understanding for concept extraction. The event was excellently run by UCL Innovation & Enterprise and produced very innovative and practical outcomes from the participants.”

All teams worked over the weekend of 20 to 22 October to produce outputs which will enable the Transcribe Bentham team to take the next step in redeveloping their website and transcription platforms. The project relies on people working through Bentham’s manuscripts and many of the teams found novel ways to engage with and train new transcribers. The winning team, Bentham Heads, took an innovative approach to transcribing and navigating the transcripts, giving insight into Bentham’s personality, social network and some of the key themes of his works.

“We surprised ourselves!” said Oliver Mattos of Bentham Heads, “The key to our success was a total mixture of skills in the team, so that we could each work on our strengths. None of the team had done transcription before, but now we've built a tool for others to enjoy and we hope it gets more texts transcribed for the benefit of everyone.”

Oli Pinch, UCL Innovation & Enterprise Training Manager, said: “This hackathon was all about knowledge exchange and innovation: IBM, UCL and the public working together to share their diverse range of skills and expertise to create something new and exciting in a very short space of time. Well done to all who took part!”



Further information

If you’d like to get involved in future hackathons and events that foster innovation, email us at entrepreneurship@ucl.ac.uk

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