Artificial Intelligence: The Vatican Library Deploys AI To Secure Its Digital Collections From Bad Actors

November 10, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence, News

The Vatican Library is digitizing its precious collection of manuscripts for the benefit of posterity.

It’s a mammoth project. The Vatican Apostolic Library, also known as the “Pope’s Library,” was established in 1451 and holds an invaluable collection of manuscripts. These range from classical Greek and Latin literature, medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts all the way to texts on mathematics, science, law, and medicine that are over 2,000 years old.

The Digita Vaticana Project

All told, the library is digitizing more than 80,000 manuscripts. These involve an estimated 40 million images (45 quadrillion bytes) in its Digita Vaticana project. The project also includes 15,000 prints, drawings, and plates, 9,000 incunabula, 100,000 archival units, and tens of thousands of 16th and 17th-century editions.

The objective is to protect this precious heritage from destruction due to warfare, accidents, natural disasters, and climate change. Also, natural deterioration due to age. The project commenced in 2012 with the appointment of NTT Data (TYO: 9613) as the agency responsible for the digitization.

“This project is about a lot more than just physical preservation,” says Manlio Miceli, the Vatican Library’s chief information officer. “Swaths of history, previously explored only by white-gloved historians, are now made available to anyone with an internet connection.”

“This is a huge step for educational equality.”

According to a 2015 article in the FT, the total cost of the project could be around €50 million.

New threat

Unfortunately, along with digitization comes a new risk – hackers eyeing the digital treasure trove. According to The Guardian, the Vatican Apostolic Library is facing as many as 100 cyberattacks a month.

The risks from such attacks to “one of the most extraordinary collections of historical manuscripts and documents in the world,” cannot be underestimated.

These range from theft, manipulation, deletion, and just plain wreaking havoc.

“While physical damage is often clear and immediate, an attack of this kind wouldn’t have the same physical visibility, and so has the potential to cause enduring and potentially irreparable harm, not only to the archive but to the world’s historical memory,” warns Miceli.

AI to the rescue of the Vatican

The Vatican Library has appointed Darktrace to safeguard its treasures from digital criminals. The company has developed an AI system for cybersecurity.

According to Miceli, AI is far superior to human beings in watching for intruders.

Miceli is also wary of ransomware attacks that can lock down an organization’s systems and computers unless a hefty sum is paid to the attackers, usually in cryptocurrency.

“These attacks have the potential to impact the Vatican library’s reputation – one it has maintained for hundreds of years – and have significant financial ramifications that could impact our ability to digitize the remaining manuscripts,” Miceli told The Guardian.

However, the Vatican Library is trusting AI to fight back on humans’ behalf before it’s too late.

Related Story:  Pope Francis Asks For Divine Help On AI And Robotics     

Feature Image Credit:  NTTDATA (AMLAD with The Vatican Apostolic Library)

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