AI helps decipher text from 2,000-year-old scrolls that were feared to have been burnt

AI can do a lot more than you think!

AI helps decipher text from 2,000-year-old scrolls that were feared to have been burnt

Artificial Intelligence has been around for some time now, having been used for several purposes. Adding to the long list of incredible feats achieved by AI is translating ancient scrolls that were long feared lost. A bunch of scholars have managed to use AI to read burnt Herculaneum scrolls that were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD – nearly 2,000 years ago.

How text was deciphered from the scrolls using AI

Several hundred papyrus scrolls stored in the library of a Villa in Herculaneum, which was part of the Roman empire, were burned with the entire town when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

Interestingly, excavations in the area had started in the late 18th century. More than 1,000 whole or partial scrolls were extracted from the mansion and were thought to have been written by Julius Caesar’s father-in-law.

The ink on the scrolls was unreadable, as they were carbonised. What’s more, the scrolls crumbled into pieces, when researchers attempted to pick them up. But AI has helped read what was once on these scrolls.

The feat was achieved as a part of the Vesuvius Challenge, which is a competition to decipher letters from high-resolution CT scans of the scrolls. Organised by Brent Seales, a US-based computer scientist, who along with his team, spent years developing algorithms to digitally unwrap these scrolls.

Then an AI model was trained to detect the presence of ink on these scrolls by checking the changes produced in the papyrus fibres. These algorithms were then released to all contestants in this competition to build on.

ALSO READ: AI and chess: How human brains trained machines to beat human brains

Nat Friedman, a US-based executive then announced that three students – Youssef Nader in Germany, Luke Farritor in the US, and Julian Schilliger in Switzerland – had deciphered over 2,000 letters from the scrolls.

This breakthrough is being lauded in the historical and circles, which finally gives researchers insights like never before into the history of the Roman Empire.

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