Paris, the most popular tourist destination in the world, and Google, the most popular website on the Internet, came together in 2011 when Google built a Googleplex in the city’s heart. The Googleplex functions as the technology giant’s headquarters for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Dr. Brent Seales, the former director of the Vis Center, will work there over his sabbatical next year. He sings its praises: “Google alone would be awesome. But you put Google in Paris and it’s doubly awesome.”
Dr. Seales will work at Google’s Cultural Institute, a group devoted to “enabling people to digitize and present interesting cultural materials in a way that is relevant for the 21st century,” he explained. Steve Crossan, head of the Cultural Institute, describes the Institute’s mission as gathering the, “history of everything, told by everyone.” The Institute acts like machine trolling through history, collecting artifacts, and storing digital piles in the world’s attic so anyone could climb up and find a trove of cultural heritage.
The Cultural Institute emerged from Google’s various cultural projects, such as the Google Book Library Project and the Google Art Project. For the Library Project, Google digitized over ten million books and made them publicly available online. Dr. Seales mentioned, “It’s a huge project to digitize page-by-page, so they’re interested in the kind of blue sky thinking researchers do, like can you scan large-scale stuff without ever opening the page?” Dr Seales’ research has focused on imaging and visualization, often on cultural heritage such as the digitization of manuscripts, libraries, and art. His EDUCE project (Enhanced Digital Unwrapping for Conservation and Exploration) scans texts and virtually unwraps them to image closed texts, such as the Herculaneum Scrolls. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius carbonized the scrolls, thus making them impossible to open. His experience digitally unrolling the Scrolls interested Steve Crossan.
Google encourages its researchers to explore, so Dr. Seales will choose his own projects. He hopes to learn more about how Google works and how they influence our world. After spending twenty years at the University of Kentucky, he treasures this chance to see the world beyond the University. “One of the risks of doing something a long time is that you start to feel comfortable, and the comfort takes away the creativity and can take away the urge to innovate.” This sabbatical forces him out of his comfort zone. “I would love to be inspired by their creativity and their can-do attitude…they just have this idea that no problem’s too big, no idea’s too far away, and that if you can think it you can make it happen. I love that.”
Dr. Seales looks forward to Parisian culture as well as his work at Google. He is already familiar with French culture because he completed a post-doctoral program in the South of France before coming to UK. Throughout his sabbatical, he will learn French and take advantage of all that Paris offers. “It’s the city of lights. It’s the city of love. It’s the city of culture. So, all of that wrapped together, it’s mind-blowing.” When the year ends, he will bring new ideas to the University of Kentucky; he plans to teach and spread his enthusiasm to his students.