Smart OCR – Advancing the Use of Artificial Intelligence with Open Data

Article by Parth Jain, Abhinay Mannepalli, Raj Parikh, and Jim Samuel: “Optical character recognition (OCR) is growing at a projected compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16%, and is expected to have a value of 39.7 billion USD by 2030, as estimated by Straits research. There has been a growing interest in OCR technologies over the past decade. Optical character recognition is the technological process for transforming images of typed, handwritten, scanned, or printed texts into machine-encoded and machine-readable texts (Tappert, et al., 1990). OCR can be used with a broad range of image or scan formats – for example, these could be in the form of a scanned document such as a .pdf file, a picture of a piece of paper in .png or .jpeg format, or images with embedded text, such as characters on a coffee cup, title on the cover page of a book, the license number on vehicular plates, and images of code on websites. OCR has proven to be a valuable technological process for tackling the important challenge of transforming non-machine-readable data into machine readable data. This enables the use of natural language processing and computational methods on information-rich data which were previously largely non-processable. Given the broad array of scanned and image documents in open government data and other open data sources, OCR holds tremendous promise for value generation with open data.

Open data has been defined as “being data that is made freely available for open consumption, at no direct cost to the public, which can be efficiently located, filtered, downloaded, processed, shared, and reused without any significant restrictions on associated derivatives, use, and reuse” (Chidipothu et al., 2022). Large segments of open data contain images, visuals, scans, and other non-machine-readable content. The size and complexity associated with the manual analysis of such content is prohibitive. The most efficient way would be to establish standardized processes for transforming documents into their OCR output versions. Such machine-readable text could then be analyzed using a range of NLP methods. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be viewed as being a “set of technologies that mimic the functions and expressions of human intelligence, specifically cognition and logic” (Samuel, 2021). OCR was one of the earliest AI technologies implemented. The first ever optical reader to identify handwritten numerals was the advanced reading machine “IBM 1287,” presented at the World Fair in New York in 1965 (Mori, et al., 1990). The value of open data is well established – however, the extent of usefulness of open data is dependent on “accessibility, machine readability, quality” and the degree to which data can be processed by using analytical and NLP methods (, 2022John, et al., 2022)…(More)”