Can artificial intelligence reveal the secrets of the ancients

(ORDO NEWS) — AI is helping historians rewrite history, literally. A new study published in the journal Nature reports that AI can fill in gaps in ancient Greek inscriptions and indicate where and when they were made.

The article notes that “over the centuries, many inscriptions have been damaged to the point of illegibility, moved far from their original place, and the date of their writing is in a state of uncertainty.”

According to TRTWorld, the researchers claim that the new artificial intelligence system they have developed can not only accurately read ancient Greek inscriptions, but also fill in gaps in the text caused by damage, and even determine their chronological and geographical location.

Dr. Thea Sommerschild is a co-author of a study conducted by Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Harvard University, and artificial intelligence company DeepMind.

Explaining the importance of the inscriptions for historians, she said that they are evidence of the thought, language, society and history of ancient civilizations, as they were written directly by the people of those times, reports the Guardian.

“But most of the surviving inscriptions have been damaged over the centuries. Therefore, their texts are now fragmentary or illegible.” It was also not uncommon for inscriptions to be moved from their original locations by later rulers and dynasties.

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Because traditional methods such as radiocarbon dating do not work on stone, historians often cannot obtain complete information from such damaged inscriptions. Alternative methods are needed to fully understand the texts.

From the Ithaca of antiquity to the futuristic Ithaca of artificial intelligence

Nicknamed “Ithaca” after the Greek island where Homeric King Odysseus lived, the modern Ithaca is an AI with a deep neural network architecture. It aims to help epigraphers fill in critical gaps in Homer’s inscriptions, while restoring the texts and determining the time and place of their appearance.

And, according to New Atlas, the prospects look promising. To date, Ithaca has shown a 62 percent success rate in recovering damaged texts and a 71 percent success rate in locating them, as well as being able to accurately date texts to within 30 years of their creation.

The use of Ithaca, along with the research of historians, raised the success rate for recovering damaged texts by Ithaca alone from 62 percent to 72 percent. Historians working without the help of Ithaca were achieving a success rate of 25 percent, so its amazing potential quickly became apparent.

Just as microscopes and telescopes have expanded the range of what scientists can do today, Ithaca aims to uniquely increase and expand the possibilities for studying one of the most significant periods of human history,” the Guardian quotes co-author Dr. Yannis Assael.

The team believes the model can be tuned to virtually any ancient language, from Latin to Maya to cuneiform. Moreover, perhaps she will be able to read Greek literary texts written on papyrus.

This could improve access to, for example, Sappho’s poetry, much of which survives only in fragments. It can even be developed to determine the authorship of texts using linguistic analysis.

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Ithaca, according to the researchers, has already revealed some of the secrets of the ancients. Applying it to a set of decrees found in the Athenian Acropolis, they unexpectedly came to the conclusion that one of the documents was different from the rest.

These texts, concerning the collection of tribute throughout the Athenian Empire, have long been thought to date from 448-7 BC. However, in Ithaca they came to the conclusion that one of them is actually 30 years younger and was written in 424 BC. This is consistent with other recent evidence.

“While it may not seem like a big difference, this 30-year shift has important implications for our understanding of the political history of classical Athens and helps us better reconcile literary sources – such as Thucydides’ account of those years and events – with epigraphic records,” Sommerschild said. , according to the Guardian.

While scientists are excited about the possibilities that AI opens up, they warn of the need to be extremely careful when using it to interpret the past.

Professor Peter Liddell, a specialist in Greek history and epigraphy at the University of Manchester, acknowledged that AI will certainly add to the toolbox of historians and help understand processes such as the development of imperialism or the nature of cult activity.

However, like the scientists, the AI ‚Äč‚Äčalso only has available ancient records. “AI is only strong as a tool to help us ask questions about existing evidence and make comparisons,” he said, according to the Guardian.

Professor Melissa Terrace, an expert on digital cultural heritage at the University of Edinburgh, is equally enthusiastic and cautious about the use of AI. It’s important to continue to educate historians on the traditional methods of interpreting results from software, she said.

However, she believes that AI has enormous potential, given the structured format of ancient texts that have survived only in fragments.

“That means they require a lot of cross-referencing in order for the human brain to be able to solve the puzzle – but that’s the type of repetitive computation that [AI systems like] deep neural networks excel at,” she said.

Thus, while welcoming the new technology, experts warn that its results will be incomplete and less reliable if conclusions are drawn independently of human knowledge. However, it is a good tool for getting data that the human brain can interpret, and who knows what secrets of the ancients it can uncover.


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