Hey folks, check this out! A bunch of smarty-pants archaeologists and computer scientists joined forces and created a super cool AI program that can translate those ancient cuneiform texts.
You know, those groovy symbols etched into clay tablets by the Mesopotamians way back in the day?
Well, turns out, these brainiacs want this program to be part of a “human-machine collaboration” to help future scholars dig into those old-school languages.
So, cuneiform is considered the OG writing system, like ancient old-school stuff.
The Mesopotamians from what is now Iraq came up with it to keep track of their precious bread and beer rations.
Smart thinking, right? This system spread like wildfire throughout the ancient Middle East and stuck around for over 3,000 years. That’s a pretty impressive run if you ask me.
Now, here’s the kicker. We’ve got thousands of these ancient documents hanging around, mostly written in Sumerian or Akkadian using cuneiform.
The problem is, translating them is a major pain in the backside. First off, there ain’t that many folks who have the know-how to do it.
And to make matters worse, these texts are often in pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle with missing parts.
Oh, and here’s the real head-scratcher. How do you translate something without having a clue about the culture it came from?
I mean, we can’t just go back in time and ask the Mesopotamians, “Hey guys, why’s this joke supposed to be funny?” It’s a real conundrum.
But hold your horses, because AI is riding in on a white horse to save the day! A super smart team, led by Gai Gutherz from Tel Aviv University and Shai Gordin from Ariel University in Israel, has whipped up this crazy AI system called a convolutional neural network. Think of it like the ancient Akkadian version of Google Translate. Pretty rad, huh?
This AI thingy comes in two versions. One tackles the cuneiform symbols directly, like the digital version of each individual symbol.
The other version needs the cuneiform to be first translated into the Latin alphabet, which is what human translators usually do.
These genius researchers cracked that first step in a previous study using some nifty machine-learning skills, and they were able to transliterate the cuneiform with a staggering 97 percent accuracy. Impressive, right?
Now, translating this ancient cuneiform ain’t a walk in the park. It’s like solving a puzzle with a million different pieces.
Each symbol can have three different functions, which makes things super complicated. Let me break it down for you: for example, there’s this symbol ‘UD,’ which originally represented the Sun-god.
But get this, it has over 17 different sounds and 6 different meanings, depending on the context. Sometimes even the experts can’t figure it out. It’s like trying to read someone’s mind, man!
Alright, let’s be real here. This program ain’t perfect. It works best with short sentences, like 118 characters or less.
And guess what? Sometimes it goes all loopy and produces some trippy English sentences that have nothing to do with the Akkadian it’s supposed to translate. You know, those AI hallucinations we’ve come to expect.
But hey, the majority of the time, this program nails it. It’s pretty accurate, especially with more official texts like royal decrees. And don’t sweat it about the sentence length thing, ’cause those cuneiform tablets are usually divided into smaller sections, making it manageable.
Wait, it gets even more awesome! This program can capture the style of each text
it translates. Can you dig it? The researchers didn’t see that one coming. They were like, “Whoa, dude, almost every time, even if the translation isn’t perfect, we can tell what kind of text it is.” It’s like getting a sneak peek into the ancient vibes of Akkadian text.
So, here’s the game plan. The researchers want this “human-machine collaboration” to be a thing. In the future, they imagine scholars using this program as a first pass to save precious time. Then, these smarty-pants can tweak and refine the translation to get it just right.
Decoding ancient texts has already led us to some mind-blowing discoveries, man. And now, with the help of AI, we’re unlocking the door to a whole new world of knowledge. Exciting times, my friends!
You can find all the juicy details in the journal PNAS Nexus. Go give it a read, if you’re into that stuff.