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21-year-old student creates artificial intelligence and helps decipher 2,000-year-old parchment

21-year-old student creates artificial intelligence and helps decipher 2,000-year-old parchment

A University of Nebraska-Lincoln student was at a party in August when he received a letter that would help him decipher a nearly 2,000-year-old letter. In the previous months, Luc Varietor, a 21-year-old computer science student, had joined a global competition to translate parchment manuscripts the Romans Which was damaged by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. Then he developed a program artificial intelligence To reveal the charred Greek letters written on papyrus.

An image provided by the University of Kentucky shows a Herculaneum scroll being scanned at the Institut de France

filming: Eidos Lab/University of Kentucky

The text message he received at the party contained a picture of one of the scrolls. Variator sat in the corner to analyze the image and send it to his AI program before returning to the party. As he was returning to his room around 1 a.m., Faritor took his phone out of his pocket and was shocked by what he saw. Its artificial intelligence program detected about ten characters in the image. “I was completely surprised,” Faritor said. Washington Post. “I got a little scared, so I jumped up and down, screaming, screaming.”

Papyrologists later translated the Greek letters into a full word – “porphyras,” an ancient Greek word meaning purple. The Vesuvius Challenge, a project created by University of Kentucky computer science professor Brent Sills to decipher the Herculaneum Scrolls, later awarded Variator $40,000 for its discovery. He is believed to be the first person in nearly 2,000 years to be able to read part of the scrolls.

The manuscripts were considered “something people said they would never be able to read because it is very difficult to extract the text,” Sales said in a press conference on Thursday, explaining that he had tried to decipher the letters for nearly two decades. . “And we still talk about exactly that today.”

For thousands of years, the Herculaneum Scrolls were stored in a nearby library Pompeii Which caught fire and was buried in mud and volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. More than 600 of the manuscripts were found in the 1750s, but people feared opening them would cause them to disintegrate, Sales said. Historians believe the scrolls — which now look like burned logs — may have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Cisoninus, according to the University of Kentucky.

The letters πορφύρα, an ancient Greek word meaning “purple,” are taken from a Herculaneum scroll charred by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. filming: Vesuvius Detection/Challenge via University of Kentucky

In 2002, Sales said he and a team of researchers developed a computer program that looked like an X-ray, allowing them to see unopened documents inside. Sells used the software to read passages from unopened Hebrew books and was optimistic that the technology would eventually reveal the ink inside the Herculaneum Scrolls. In 2009, Sales visited one of the four European institutions that hold the Herculaneum manuscripts, the Institut de France, to examine one of them. But unlike other ancient inks that contained metal, the ink on the Herculaneum scrolls was made of charcoal and water, which gave it the same density as papyrus and made it impossible to see through a computer program, Sills said.

Sells has hit a snag. But as artificial intelligence improved in 2016, he began building software that could detect the presence of ink in documents, even those containing the watery type of charcoal. After Sales produced the clearest scan yet of the manuscript in 2019, he and his team received grants from arts and sciences organizations and funding from Silicon Valley investors to advance their studies.

However, Sales felt he needed help. He and his investors launched the Vesuvius Challenge in March, offering more than $1 million to participants who could decipher the images from the scrolls. Sells, 59, and his researchers provided their data and images to Melvin via the challenge website.

Varietor, who was born at the beginning of Sells’ research, said he heard about the contest at a science program and was one of about 1,500 registrants. He said he was training in SpaceX Between March and July, they worked on deciphering the scrolls at night and on weekends.

While Variator was working on his own attempts to unravel the puzzle, Casey Hanmer, a California businessman who also participated in the challenge, saw dark spots and lines on the parchments and concluded in early August that these areas were actually ink.

Hanmer shared his findings with other participants, prompting Variator to improve his artificial intelligence program to detect letters from inked sections of parchment. He soon saw parts of letters appear – a sign that his software was on the cusp of being able to detect full letters in images.

Variator was at a friend’s house party in Omaha later that month when Vesuvius Challenge organizers released another photo of an excerpt. When he saw later that night that his AI software had detected about six messages, Varitor said he sent a screenshot of the snippet to his mother and challenged organizers to share the news.

Over the next week, he said, he continued to use his artificial intelligence program to detect about 10 more letters. Federica Niccolardi, professor of papyrology at the University of Naples Federico II, said at the press conference on Thursday, 12th of this month, that she was shocked when she saw the pictures of variator, although the researchers did not know the context of the discovered word.

The Greek letters were finally translated into the word “porphyras”. The word could describe the color of clothing or refer to a purple dye that was valued in ancient Rome, Niccolardi said. But the researchers said the biggest discovery is that with modern technology, it is possible for anyone to be able to read the manuscripts.

The challenge is to offer $700,000 to the first person to decode four excerpts from it. Varitor, who plans to work in startups after he graduates in May, has been staying up late to study more scrolls. He already has an idea of ​​where he’ll spend his $40,000. “I’ll buy more computers, and I’ll win the jackpot,” he said.White phosphorus

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