Friday, October 13, 2023

Vesuvius Challenge: we have the first winner

TECHNOLOGY CONTEST: AI reads text from ancient Herculaneum scroll for the first time. Machine-learning technique reveals Greek words in CT scans of rolled-up papyrus. (Jo Marchant, Nature).
A 21-year-old computer-science student has won a global contest to read the first text inside a carbonized scroll from the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, which had been unreadable since a volcanic eruption in AD 79 — the same one that buried nearby Pompeii. The breakthrough could open up hundreds of texts from the only intact library to survive from Greco-Roman antiquity.

Luke Farritor, who is at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, developed a machine-learning algorithm that has detected Greek letters on several lines of the rolled-up papyrus, including πορϕυρας (porphyras), meaning ‘purple’. Farritor used subtle, small-scale differences in surface texture to train his neural network and highlight the ink.


Congratulations to Mr. Farritor! And to Mr. Nader (see below).

I noted the opening of the contest last March. For many PaleoJudaica posts on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE and its destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and on the efforts to reconstruct and decipher the carbonized library at Herculaneum, follow the links from there.

There has been one other award so far, with more to be awarded, including the big one:

The Vesuvius Challenge offers a series of awards, leading to a main prize of US$700,000 for reading four or more passages from a rolled-up scroll. On 12 October, the organizers announced that Farritor has won the ‘first letters’ prize of $40,000 for reading more than 10 characters in a 4-square-centimetre area of papyrus. Youssef Nader, a graduate student at the Free University of Berlin, is awarded $10,000 for coming second.
Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

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