Untold lives blog

Sharing stories from the past, worldwide

29 September 2022

The HCLF, chatbots and balancing cats

What links chatbots with balancing cats? The Human-Computer Learning Foundation (HCLF) was founded in 1994, by computer scientist Donald Michie; psychologist Jean Hayes Michie; and television producer Rupert Macnee (son of Patrick Macnee, star of the 1960s TV show The Avengers). The HCLF was a charitable trust created for the purposes of furthering for the public benefit 'the awareness, understanding, and use of human-computer learning and artificial intelligence'.

Photograph of Donald Michie and Jean HayesDonald Michie and Jean Hayes (Add MS 88958/5/4), reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie

The HCLF defined human-computer learning to mean "that the human and computer partners both learn from each other as they go along, exchanging partly formed concepts while each assisting the other to bring nascent ideas and conceptualisation to levels difficult for either to attain alone".

The administrative papers of the HCLF were collected over the life of the organisation by Rupert Macnee, and donated to the British Library in 2020. Rupert served as secretary for the HCLF from its inception. The archive includes registration and legal documents, correspondence, accounts, meeting minutes and articles. Many are printed on the back of documents relating to Macnee's work as a television producer.

Letter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLFLetter regarding the charitable status of the proposed HCLF, Add MS 89496/2. Reproduced with permission of Rupert Macnee and the estate of Donald Michie.

The HCLF felt that technology and the internet's rapid development was causing people to be left behind, creating a gap in skills required to obtain jobs. The papers trace how the HCLF began developing downloadable computer games designed to build the user's perceptual and motor skills, whilst simultaneously developing the knowledge base available to the computer. One of these games involved a pole-balancing 'polecat'. An idea to try and incorporate the popular Japanese manga and cartoon chat character Doraemon to boost sales in Japan was suggested, but after actually seeing the character's appearance they deemed his design to be too round for their requirements. Some skills could be learnt using a voice instruction system developed by the HCLF, known as "Automated Voice-Over Training". Macnee provided the test voice for the system, likening it to Obi-Wan Kenobi tutoring Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. They discussed the idea of partnering with Disney or Warner Brothers to create a version for children.

Developing the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character DoraemonDeveloping the 'polecat' game with a view to incorporating the character Doraemon, Add MS 89496/3. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

The archive also reveals how the HCLF developed a 'chatbot' computer program called Sophie, similar to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's ELIZA program from 1964. Sophie was presented as a casual member of staff working for the HCLF. Visitors could 'chat' to her on the HCLF website, but after a certain amount of interaction the visitor would be told that Sophie had to get back to work. As an alternative they could pay and subscribe to her Conversation Club, where they could chat for as long as they wanted. Sophie was programmed to analyse the questions she was asked and provide suitable answers. 'She' would learn from each interaction. A fictitious profile and backstory was created for Sophie, including a family, which had some amusing results. Her brother John worked for 'Woofie Bits dog-food manufacturers', and her sister Julia's religion was listed as 'nature-worship,  vegetarian'.

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members

Details from the biographical profiles for 'Sophie Martin' and family members, Deposit 10206. Reproduced with permission of the estate of Donald Michie.

Tragically, Donald Michie was killed in a car crash in 2007, and the HCLF was disbanded shortly afterwards. The study, development and use of artificial intelligence for language learning, however, has continued.

Jonathan Schofield
Manuscripts cataloguer

Donald Michie at the British Library
The Donald Michie papers at the British Library is comprised of three separate tranches of material, gifted to the library in 2004 and 2008. They consist of correspondence, notes, notebooks, offprints and photographs, and are available to users through the Explore Archives and Manuscripts catalogue, under references Add MS 88958, Add MS 88975 and Add MS 89072.

The archive of the Human-Computer Learning Foundation can be found at Add MS 89496. For copies of agreements relating to the HCLF please see Add MS 89072/2/3.

 

27 September 2022

Sale of jewels and silver by the India Office

In February 1862 a sale of jewels and silver on behalf of the Secretary of State for India was announced in the press.

Announcement of sale of jewels and silver by Secretary of State for India - Daily News 24 February 1862Announcement of sale of jewels and silver by Secretary of State for India  - Daily News (London) 24 February 1862 British Newspaper Archive.  Six sarpeshs were sold, not five as stated here.

The jewels and ornaments to be sold had transferred to the India Office from the East India Company.  They are included in a list made by Charles Wilkins in 1831 of items deposited with the Company Librarian.  At the beginning of 1861, the items were passed to Garrard & Co for valuation:

• Eight jighas worn on the side of the turban by Indian men of rank, and six sapeshs worn on the front of the turban, made of gold and enamel and set with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls.
• Eight necklaces – pearls, diamonds, rubies, musk beads covered with gold filigree, one with a gold locket containing a picture of the King of Travancore.
• Two bracelets – pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds.
• Four rings – diamond, ruby and sapphire.
• A pearl tassel.
• Glass models of diamonds.
• Two gold and two silver boxes, a gold casket, and a gold and enamel snuff box with diamonds.
• A ‘curious’ gold mask.
• Two gold nuggets, one with quartz.

Turban jewelExample of a turban jewel in the Royal Collection - Gold, diamonds, emerald, rubies and red cord, mid-19th century

Garrard assessed the turban jewels set with precious stones and pearls to be of inferior quality and therefore of an uncertain value.  The articles without precious stones had been computed at the weight of the metal only.  The jewellers warned that values were ‘very capricious’ and that the India Office would probably realise more at a public auction than through a private sale.

First page of an inventory of  jewelsFirst page of an inventory of  jewels made in 1831 - British Library Mss Eur D562/33 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Some items sent for valuation were not included in the auction at Christie, Manson and Woods at St James’s in London:

• ‘A round silver salver of great antiquity supposed to be of Greek or Byzantine art, the period ascribed to this work is the 3rd century’.  There was speculation that this salver had been taken to India by Alexander the Great.  Garrard agreed that it was very old and very valuable.
• A gold plate beautifully enamelled with flowers and birds, and in the centre a lion and sun with Persian characters.
• Sheet gold with Burmese characters inscribed, and sheet silver.
• One small box ‘selected by Mr Mills’.

In addition, the India Office sent for auction a number of silver items which had been used by the housekeeper at East India House - tea pots, coffee pots, sugar tongs, spoons, forks, cream jugs, and a toast rack.

Newspaper report of sale of Indian jewels Newspaper report of sale of Indian jewelsReport of sale of Indian jewels - Glasgow Morning Journal 22 March 1862 British Newspaper Archive

The auction on 13 March 1862 realised a total of £1160 1s 9d for the India Office, with some items returned unsold.  A deduction of £87 was made for commission and advertising, leaving a net sum of £1073 1s 9d.  According to newspaper reports, the Rothschild family purchased some of the India Office lots - a necklace of pearls, rubies, emeralds and diamonds for £119 10s, as well as turban jewels.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Incomplete catalogue of the India Museum, including a list made by Dr Wilkins in 1831 of jewels deposited under the charge of the Librarian Mss Eur D562/33.
Papers relating to the transfer of the medals, coins and jewels in the Masson and other collections to the India Office Library, 1861-1868 Mss Eur F303/448.
Finance Committee Papers – IOR/L/F/2/247 no.283; IOR/L/F/2/257 no.200; IOR/L/F/2/258 no, 410.
Minutes of the Council of India about the sale - 5 Jul 1861 IOR/C/7 f.4; 11 & 25 Apr 1862 IOR/C/8 ff.475, 499.

 

22 September 2022

Passport applications in the Kashmir Residency Files

Previous posts on this blog have highlighted the collections of passports contained within the India Office Public and Judicial Department files.  However, two fascinating files in the Kashmir Residency Records also have papers relating to passports for people wishing to travel from pre-1947 India.

The two files contain applications for passports to be issued or renewed from residents of the Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir in 1943.  They give details of applicant’s full name, place of residence, age, marital status, occupation, place and date of birth, information on children and spouse, and some applications have a photograph attached.  Here are a few of the people who feature in the files:

Violet Gladys Stapleton, born St Albans on 21 February 1882, a nursing sister (missionary), residing at the CMS Hospital, Srinagar.

Captain Sydney Ernest, born Hertford on 15 April 1891, the guardian to the Heir-Apparent to His Highness of Jaipur.  He gave his ordinary residence as Rambagh Palace, Jaipur.

Pamela Mary Rumbold, born Wales on 1 September 1916, the wife of an RAF officer, residing in Srinagar.  She wanted a passport for a possible return to England in the event of her husband’s transfer there.

Passport application for Pamela Mary Rumbold Passport application for Pamela Mary Rumbold IOR/R/2/1070/142 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

Sagi, born Gilgit on 15 March 1911.  He gave his occupation as servant, and was proceeding to Kashgar with his employer Captain Binns.

Passport application for Sagi Passport application for Sagi IOR/R/2/1070/142 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

With some of the applications there is additional correspondence.  This is the case with Satya Pal Datta, born in Kotla Dattan in Mirpur District on 24 June 1924.  With his application, he included a letter in which he wrote: 'I am proceeding to Kenya for education purposes.  My financial condition is most satisfactory and there is no apprehension of my being stranded there for want of necessary funds'.  A police check reported that he was of good character, and 'There is nothing on record political or otherwise against the man.  His father is really in Africa.  He and his family are loyal subjects'.

Passport application for Satya Pal Datta Passport application for Satya Pal Datta IOR/R/2/1070/142 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The file contains three applications from tailors from Jammu City who wished to proceed to Palestine to work with Haji Roshan Din & Sons, contractors attached to His Majesty’s Forces.  The three men were Mohamed Said (aged 27), Mohamed Azim (aged 32 years) and Mehar Ilahi (aged 30 years).  A memorandum noted that the contractors had undertaken to maintain the three men and to pay their fare from India to Palestine and back.  The applicants were reported to be fit and proper persons to receive the passports applied for by them.

Mohamed Said  IOR-R-2-1070-142Passport application for Mohamed Said IOR/R/2/1070/142 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth Bell was born in Glasgow on 22 September 1911.  In 1943, she was a teacher living at Burn Hall School, Srinagar.  Wishing to return to Scotland to visit her parents, she reported that her passport had been destroyed.  She was required to furnish the authorities with a declaration in order to get a new one.

Passport application for Elizabeth Bell Passport application for Elizabeth Bell IOR/R/2/1070/142 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In her declaration, she stated that her old passport had been issued in Dublin in 1929, and she had been residing in India since March 1930 and had taught in schools at Murree, Rawalpindi and Srinagar.  She had recently been running a gown shop named Fitzgerald Gowns on the Bund in Srinagar, but it had been completely destroyed by fire on 30 March 1943.  Her passport and teaching certificates were lost in the blaze.  Her declaration was accepted, and a new passport was sent to her.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File No. 476(5) of 1943. Applications for renewal of passports received during 1943, shelfmark: IOR/R/2/1070/140.
File No. 476(6) of 1943. Applications for passports issued during 1943, shelfmark: IOR/R/2/1070/142.

Previous posts on Untold Lives:
Records of People on the Move
Sources for Asian biography