A project with artificial intelligence provides access to the great mind of Leonardo da Vinci

“Inside a Genius Mind,” by Google Arts & Culture, used machine learning tools to gather, sort and present the enigmatic manuscripts, works and general information about the Renaissance genius’s life

In order to broaden access to culture, Google’s Arts & Culture platform has launched an online page called “Inside a Genius Mind,” which used machine learning tools to gather, sort and present in an attractive way the enigmatic manuscripts, works and general information about the life of Leonardo da Vinci. The site makes it possible to consult materials that were previously unavailable on the web.

Curated by Professor Martin Kemp, and created by Amit Sood, the experiment contextualizes and makes publicly available for the first time 1300 pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s codices, which contain sketches of inventions, ideas on mathematics, geometry, physics and astronomy, as well as notes on his daily life. For this work, Google Arts & Culture had the collaboration of 28 institutions, most of which are museums and galleries.

The great contribution of this experiment -as its creators call it- is that it allows both researchers and the general public to immerse themselves in the archive, life and work of Leonardo da Vinci digitally, free of charge and from a single place.

Given that the sheer volume of information on Leonardo da Vinci can be overwhelming and even intimidating, GA&C set out to create a site that would make some aspects of the artist known in a systematized and attractive way for everyone. The institutions involved in this project made materials by the artist available for digitization and use.

Portrait gallery

Thanks to machine learning, connections, organizations and themes have been established that order the material.

Martin Kemp, professor at Oxford University, curator and researcher specializing in Leonardo da Vinci, was in charge of the project’s curatorship. In his words, the experiment “transforms the diverse contents of the codices into an interactive visual journey”.

The project has some similarities with other Google tools. The starting point was the same as the one used to create Pinpoint. This tool is designed for journalists and researchers, and its goal is to collect, organize and filter information in real time and automatically. Much more rudimentary and general, Pinpoint also uses machine learning to identify relevant concepts and classify information.

Google Arts & Culture ran a similar initiative with Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Like “Inside a Genius Mind,” the site aims to provide clear, digital access to the artistic legacy of a great European artist. Both projects allow users to explore the artists’ works and lives through an extensive collection of images, background information and other materials.

But “Inside a Genius Mind” takes on another relevance, because by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to reorder and analyze Leonardo’s manuscripts for a specific purpose, it provides a much more developed and interactive experience for users.

In addition, the Leonardo da Vinci project gives much more importance to archival research, as many of its areas are focused on the analysis of his drawings and notes.

By combining the manuscripts with digital tools, such as a virtual whiteboard and 3D image generation, users can generate new ideas and connections from their sketches and observations. And, by using AI to reorder and analyze Leonardo da Vinci’s codices, this platform makes it possible to sort through data that would take months to analyze analogically.

Games, Mona Lisa filters and Street View tours

One of the main objectives, as Google Arts & Culture founder Amit Sood told the press conference, was to facilitate access to information for researchers and artists. But it was equally important for them to bring the figure of da Vinci closer to the non-specialized public, and also to have sections where the relevance of the artist could be accessed from more general aspects and in more playful ways.

For this, they proposed that the page should have a high degree of interactivity: there are hundreds of options that can be chosen, from selecting sketches and having artificial intelligence combine them to create a completely new image, to crossword puzzles that test the knowledge that someone has about the painter, or filters based on the most famous works of the artist and also an augmented reality option that allows you to try how the Mona Lisa would look like hanging on a wall in your home.

Therefore, the experiment seeks to allow users to navigate randomly and learn about the same topic from different points of view, determined by the path that each one chooses.

In addition, from the sketches of the inventions he drew in his notebooks, many of the objects that were drawn were captured in 3D. Such is the case of several airplanes that da Vinci studied, a cone-shaped parachute or a mechanical loom, which through the three-dimensional representation can be understood in a closer way what the drawings represent. Or, also, it is possible to access from Street View to some fundamental places of his life, such as the house where he lived.

Google Street View: view of Via Vinci

Google Street View: view of Via Vinci (Museo Leonardiano di Vinci and Google Arts & Culture).

Contribution for academics and scholars

“Inside a Genius Mind” opens new doors into the artist’s world, facilitating exploration and study of the materials. The site contains the artist’s works in extremely high resolution, allowing users to zoom in on the image to a level that would never be allowed in real life. In addition, through tags one can quickly trace a concept that is repeated in different notes, such as “water”, “machine” or “plant”.

According to the creators, the machine learning tools allowed them to find a completely new way of understanding da Vinci. And the page represents a significant advance in the field of archiving and data analysis, because it shows the possibilities that will be democratized in a short time and marks a path of how to access and disseminate collections from anywhere with an Internet connection.

As can be anticipated, all organizations, institutions and independent users will sooner or later and depending on their needs, use machine learning tools, both to organize their internal work and to show it in more interesting and accessible ways to the world.

The “Inside a Genius Mind” project is an example of how the integration of machine learning can transform archival research and provide engaging experiences for users, thus laying the groundwork for a future where archives go beyond academia to become a tool accessible to the public at large.

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