Cracking the Code

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The ancient tradition of carpet weaving in the northern Indian region of Kashmir features patterns that rely on a symbolic code, called talim. Designers have used the method for centuries to communicate information to weavers, who make the carpets by hand.

In the traditional process, a talim expert would encode a carpet design drawn by a designer and break it into small sections to be woven. Once translated, the talim would tell weavers where to knot and which colors to use.

Talim and intricate patterns made Kashmiri weaving a priceless heritage, say experts. Weaver Mohammad Rafiq Sofi told the BBC it took him five years to master his craft.

However, this system was not only immune to human mistakes – it made them difficult to spot and correct, wasting a lot of time in the process. Computer software contributed to eliminating these issues, bringing the production time of a single carpet from six months down to six weeks.

Now, the industry is being further revolutionized through the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI).

Computer software firm International Virtual Assistance is training AI to understand talim, by feeding it pictures of rugs and corresponding lines of talim code. Engineers insist this innovation is only meant to boost manufacturing productivity and not impact the artistry of the craft.

With India’s economy booming, higher demand for handwoven carpets could strengthen a significant source of revenue for Kashmir, but traditional weavers might not be able to keep up.

AI could also help transform the craft by allowing designers and weavers to experiment with new materials, say proponents.

“Weavers will be able to try out new patterns, update classic themes to suit contemporary tastes, and produce one-of-a-kind, custom carpets,” said Aby Mathew from the firm.

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