Wednesday, February 07, 2024

A Grand Prize winner for the Vesuvius Challenge

TECHNOLOGY WATCH: An Ancient Roman Scroll on Pleasure Was Just Decoded Using AI (Will Henshall, Time Magazine).
Papyrologists working with the Vesuvius Challenge believe the scroll contains “never-before-seen text from antiquity,” and the text in question is a piece of Epicurean philosophy on the subject of pleasure. The winning submission shows ancient Greek letters on a large patch of scroll, and the author seems to be discussing the question: are things that are scarce more pleasurable as a result?

... In accordance with the criteria set in March 2023, the winning submission contains four passages of 140 characters each, with at least 85% of the characters in each of those passages recoverable by professional papyrologists. It also contains a further 11 columns of text.

This is an extraordinary achievement. All indications are that this new technology is opening the door to transcribing and deciphering the many hundreds of carbonized scrolls from Heculaneum. With the possibility of thousands more still unexcavated.

The contest was announced in March of last year. The current prizewinners have already won a couple of lesser prizes in the 2023 competition. See here and here. There is a new grand prize for 2024, so let's look forward to more good news this time next year.

Bit by bit, a letter at a time, whatever it takes. Until we're done.

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