Google launches hieroglyphics translator powered by AI
Google has launched a hieroglyphic translator that uses machine learning to decode the ancient Egyptian language.
The feature has been added to its Arts & Culture app. It also allows users to translate their words and emojis into shareable hieroglyphics.
Google claims that Fabricius is the first tool of this type to be trained by machine learning “to make sense of what a hieroglyph is”.
In theory, it should improve over time as more people use it.
A desktop version of Fabricius is also being offered to Egyptologists, anthropologists and professional historians to support their research.
An expert welcomed the initiative, but said that his “big claims” need to be considered in context.
“Although impressive, it is not yet at the point where it replaces the need for a highly qualified expert in reading ancient inscriptions,” said Dr. Roland Enmarch, professor of Egyptology at the University of Liverpool.
“Some very large obstacles remain to the reading of hieroglyphics, because they are handmade and vary enormously over time in terms of pictorial detail and between individual carvers / painters.
“Anyway, this is a step on the road.”
Decipher the results
The software Workbench tool allows the user to upload photos of real hieroglyphics found on artifacts and improve images digitally to better analyze the symbols.
Users can trace the contours of the hieroglyphics, which the software then tries to combine with similar symbols in its database, allowing them to search for different meanings and attempt to decipher the results.
The tool works by analyzing historical records and language definitions.
But Google hopes to be able to create a larger database as people join the system.
Researchers can also note and touch up faded symbols in Workbench, which Google hopes will lead to new historical discoveries.
The tool was created in collaboration with the Australian Center for Egyptology, at Macquarie University, Psycle Interactive, Ubisoft and Egyptologists around the world.
“Digitizing textual material so far only in handwritten books will completely revolutionize the way Egyptologists do business,” said Dr. Alex Woods, of the Australian Center for Egyptology.
“Digitized and annotated texts could potentially help us rebuild broken texts on walls and even discover texts that we didn’t know were there.”
The launch of the software coincides with the anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta stone, which first allowed experts to learn how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics.
It is currently available in English and Arabic.