A recent study by computer scientists at Smith College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst demonstrated a new electronic method to transcribe handwritten historical documents that is more reliable than any other available method to date, Smith College reports. Currently, computer recognition programs tend to work well on machine-printed text and on limited handwriting tasks, such as reading postal addresses for which there are a finite number possibilities, according to Nicholas R. Howe, a Smith associate professor. But only a few programs have demonstrated any success in translating cursive script common to historical documents–until now. "Reliable recognition of texts from historical collections is often infeasible with current technology, and yet those texts hold the potential to open new worlds to scholarship," noted Howe. "Our method improves [upon] the best previously reported recognition rates." The researchers have documented an 85-percent success rate for their "flexible inference model"–a model that identifies the most probable sequence of letters in a portion of handwritten text. While the study breaks new ground in the development of software that translates handwriting, with all its imperfections, more research needs to be done, said Howe…

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