The Atlantic

19th-Century Paleontology Was at the Forefront of Big Data

From paper databases to digital analyses, the field's transformation holds lessons for AI and machine learning.
Source: George Steinmetz / Getty

In 1981, when I was 9 years old, my father took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. Although I had to squint my eyes during some of the scary scenes, I loved it in particular because I was fairly sure that Harrison Ford’s character was based on my dad. My father was a paleontologist at the University of Chicago, and I’d gone on several field trips with him to the Rocky Mountains, where he seemed to transform into a rock-hammer-wielding superhero.

That illusion was shattered some years later when I figured out what he actually did: Far from spending his time climbing dangerous cliffs and digging up dinosaurs, Jack Sepkoski spent most of his career in front of a computer, building what would become the first comprehensive on the fossil

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Ask Your (Male) Colleagues What They Earn
Samira Ahmed’s case against her employer, the BBC, illustrates the value of transparency in closing the gender pay gap.
The Atlantic5 min readSociety
Google’s Totally Creepy, Totally Legal Health-Data Harvesting
The summer after college, I moved back home to take care of my widower grandfather. Part of my job was to manage his medications; at 80, he was becoming a fall risk and often complained that his prescriptions made him light-headed. But getting someon
The Atlantic7 min readPolitics
Just How Far Will Republicans Go for Trump?
Lawmakers won’t face facts about Ukraine because they’re scared of the base. Yet one reason the president’s support remains so indivisible is that few lawmakers have condemned him.