Unlocking Ancient Secrets: AI Translates 5,000-Year-Old Cuneiform Tablets

Joscelyn Kate 27 Jun 2023
Unlocking Ancient Secrets: AI Translates 5,000-Year-Old Cuneiform Tablets Image

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been making headlines for its various applications and potential consequences on society. Interestingly, it has developed an important role in deciphering ancient texts. Recently, a team of archaeologists and computer scientists have utilized AI to translate 5,000-year-old cuneiform tablets containing Akkadian texts, paving the way for a greater understanding of our past.

Originating in Mesopotamia, an area now known as modern-day Iraq, the Akkadian language was once widely spoken. These ancient texts, written on clay tablets, have remained untranslated due to a scarcity of experts in Akkadian. The innovative AI program employed is comparable to a superpowered Google Translate, capable of achieving 97% accuracy in translating the Akkadian cuneiform script to Latin. Latin, with its simpler syntax, serves as a more accessible stepping stone to further translation into English.

Researchers noted that the AI performed commendably when working with formally written text, such as royal decrees or scholarly writings. However, it faced challenges when translating literary texts. These attempts sometimes resulted in "hallucinations," which are outputs that bear little to no resemblance to the original text. Nonetheless, the AI's overall proficiency in understanding the ancient script is a remarkable feat.

As AI technology continues to advance, it is anticipated that it will be employed to translate other lost languages. This would undoubtedly lead to a wealth of knowledge about ancient civilizations becoming available to scholars and the general public. However, it's important to acknowledge that AI still has a long way to go, as even understanding contemporary languages like English remains a challenge for the technology.

In the meantime, as AI gradually perfects its translation capabilities, we cannot help but imagine a future where it deciphers not just obscure ancient texts but perhaps even the languages of our pets. Although, for now, the demands of our cats and dogs can probably be left for us to interpret without the help of AI.