Google AI tool decodes ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs

Google AI tool decodes ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs

Technology News |
By Rich Pell

The web-based tool, called Fabricius, lets anyone learn about, “play” with, or decode the ancient language, which combines logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic elements, and has a total of some 1,000 distinct characters. Available in English and Arabic, the tool, says the company, is named after the father of epigraphy – the study of ancient inscriptions – and was created in collaboration with the Australian Center for Egyptology at Macquarie University, digital production company Psycle Interactive, video game company Ubisoft, and Egyptologists from around the globe.

The tool offers three dedicated “gateways” in which to interact with the ancient language:

  • First, users can “Learn” about the language by following a short educational introduction in six easy steps.
  • Second, Fabricius invites users to “Play” and translate their own words and messages into hieroglyphics ready to be shared with friends and family.
  • Third, the tool offers new avenues for academic research (“Work”) by enabling researchers to translate and decipher the language.

With “Learn,” users are introduced to the history and study of hieroglyphs and able to interact with the tool with activities that include drawing symbols and having machine learning analyze their accuracy. In “Play,” users can type text into the app and have it automatically converted into “just-for-fun” hieroglyphs.

The “Work” part of the tool is a desktop-only set of tools to assist researchers with the translation of hieroglyphs. Here, for the first time, says the company, users can upload hieroglyphic symbol images to the Fabricius Workbench for decoding through machine learning.

“So far,” says Chance Coughenour, Program Manager, Google Arts & Culture, “experts had to dig manually through books upon books to translate and decipher the ancient language – a process that has remained virtually unchanged for over a century. Fabricius includes the first digital tool – that is also being released as open source to support further developments in the study of ancient languages – that decodes Egyptian hieroglyphs built on machine learning.”

Specifically, Google Cloud’s AutoML technology, AutoML Vision, was used to create a machine learning model that is able to make sense of what a hieroglyph is. In the past, says the company, this would require “a team of data scientists, a lot of code, and plenty of time,” while AutoML Vision allows developers to easily train a machine to recognize all kinds of objects.

The work on Fabricius began with The Hieroglyphics Initiative, a Ubisoft research project that was launched at the British Museum in September 2017 to coincide with the release of the company’s Assassin’s Creed Origins video game, which is set in ancient Egypt. Working with Google and development agency Psycle Interactive, the project sought to identify whether machine learning could transform the process of collating, cataloging, and understanding the written language of the Pharaohs.

Google AI

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