четверг, 12 марта 2020 г.

How AI could help translate the written language of ancient civilizations

Twenty-five centuries ago, the "paperwork" of Persia's Achaemenid Empire was recorded on clay tablets—tens of thousands of which were discovered in 1933 in modern-day Iran by archaeologists from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. For decades, researchers painstakingly studied and translated these ancient documents by hand, but this manual deciphering process is very difficult, slow and prone to errors.

How AI could help translate the written language of ancient civilizations
The OI began archaeological expeditions to the ancient city of Persepolis in the 1930s, where they uncovered tens of
thousands clay tablets containing cuneiform. A collaboration between the OI and the Department of Computer
Science using a machine learning program could allow faster translation of these tablets [Credit: the OI]

Since the 1990s, scientists have recruited computers to help—with limited success, due to the three-dimensional nature of the tablets and the complexity of the cuneiform characters. But a technological breakthrough at the University of Chicago may finally make automated transcription of these tablets—which reveal rich information about Achaemenid history, society and language—possible, freeing up archaeologists for higher-level analysis.

That's the motivation behind DeepScribe, a collaboration between researchers from the OI and UChicago's Department of Computer Science. With a training set of more than 6,000 annotated images from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, the Center for Data and Computing-funded project will build a model that can "read" as-yet-unanalyzed tablets in the collection, and potentially a tool that archaeologists can adapt to other studies of ancient writing.

"If we could come up with a tool that is flexible and extensible, that can spread to different scripts and time periods, that would really be field-changing," said Susanne Paulus, associate professor of Assyriology.

"It's a good machine learning problem'

The collaboration began when Paulus, Sandra Schloen and Miller Prosser of the OI met Asst. Prof. Sanjay Krishnan of the Department of Computer Science at a Neubauer Collegium event on digital humanities. Schloen and Prosser oversee OCHRE, a database management platform supported by the OI to capture and organize data from archaeological excavations and other forms of research. Krishnan applies deep learning and AI techniques to data analysis, including video and other complex data types. The overlap was immediately apparent to both sides.

"From the computer vision perspective, it's really interesting because these are the same challenges that we face. Computer vision over the last five years has improved so significantly; ten years ago, this would have been hand wavy, we wouldn't have gotten this far," Krishnan said. "It's a good machine learning problem, because the accuracy is objective here, we have a labeled training set and we understand the script pretty well and that helps us. It's not a completely unknown problem."

How AI could help translate the written language of ancient civilizations
Pictured are hotspots outlining cuneiform signs on an Elamite tablet
from the Persepolis Fortification Archive [Credit: the OI]

That training set is thanks to more than 80 years of close study by OI and UChicago researchers and a recent push to digitize high-resolution images of the tablet collection—currently over 60 terabytes and still growing—before their return to Iran. Using this collection, researchers created a dictionary of the Elamite language inscribed on the tablets, and students learning how to decipher cuneiform built a database of more than 100,000 "hotspots," or identified individual signs.

With resources from the UChicago Research Computing Center, Krishnan used this annotated dataset to train a machine learning model, similar to those used in other computer vision projects. When tested on tablets not included in the training set, the model could successfully decipher cuneiform signs with about 80% accuracy. Ongoing research will try to nudge that number higher while examining what accounts for the remaining 20%.

A lot of digital heavy lifting

But even 80% accuracy can immediately provide help for transcription efforts. Many of the tablets describe basic commercial transactions, similar to "a box of Walmart receipts," Paulus said. And a system that can't quite make up its mind may still be useful.

"If the computer could just translate or identify the highly repetitive parts and leave it to an expert to fill in the difficult place names or verbs or things that need some interpretation, that gets a lot of the work done," said Paulus, the Tablet Collection Curator at the OI. "And if the computer can't make a definitive decision, if it could give us back probabilities or the top four ranks, then an expert has a place to start. That would be amazing."

Even more ambitiously, the team imagines DeepScribe as a general-purpose deciphering tool that they can share with other archaeologists. Perhaps the model can be retrained for cuneiform languages other than Elamite, or can make educated suggestions about what text was written on missing pieces of incomplete tablets. A machine learning model might also help determine the origin of tablets and other artifacts of unknown provenance, a task currently addressed by chemical testing.

Similar CDAC-funded projects are using computer vision approaches for applications, such as studying biodiversity in marine bivalves and disentangling style from content in artistic work. The collaboration also hopes to inspire future partnerships between the OI and the Department of Computer Science, as digital archaeology increasingly intersects with advanced computational approaches.

"I think it helped something that would have ended at a dinner conversation become an actual collaboration," Krishnan said. "It got us to do more than talking."

Author: Rob Mitchum | Source: University of Chicago [March 12, 2020]

* This article was originally published here

'These are what we fought for: Antiquities and the Greek War of Independence' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens

The new temporary exhibition 'These are what we fought for… Antiquities and the Greek War of Independence' forms part of the National Archaeological Museum program for the celebration of the Greek War of Independence 200th anniversary.

'These are what we fought for: Antiquities and the Greek War of Independence' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Credit: NAM

The well-known quote of the general, Ioannis Makrygiannis, is given precedence in the title of the exhibition, since the struggle for freedom was embedded not only in the demand of the Greek people for independence, but also in their historical rights over the unrivalled works of the ancient ancestors.

Twenty-six selected antiquities (22 marble sculptures and reliefs, 2 clay vases, 2 bronze figurines) from the collections of the National Archaeological Museum are showcased in an eclectic «dialogue» with twenty-six recent works of the 18th and 19th century, most of them by European artists: 8 paintings (oil and water colour ones), 11 austere engravings, 4 illustrated editions and 3 artifacts of decorative art, temporary loans from the Library and Art Collection of the Hellenic Parliament, the National Historical Museum, Benaki Museum, Museum of the City of Athens – Vouros-Eutaxia Foundation, National Gallery – Alexandros Soutsos Museum, Stephan Adler Collection, as well as the Michalis and Dimitra Varkaraki Collection.

In the first part of the exhibition, information and documents are presented regarding the preceding revolutionary movements of the 17th and 18th century, as well as the ideological preparation of the struggle, in which references to the ancient past and historical continuity of the nation were constantly made.

'These are what we fought for: Antiquities and the Greek War of Independence' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The Battle of Athens by Georg Perlberg (1807-1884) [Credit: NAM]

There are on display works related to the great Greek enlighteners, Adamantios Korais and Rhigas Pheraios or Velestinlis, along with characteristic publications that marked the beginning of the philhellenic interest, while the antiquities that feature in this exhibition unit represent distinct iconographic prototypes, similar to those that inspired the rendering of enslaved Greece.

The second part comments on the phenomenon of the plundering of antiquities, as one of the aspects in which the fascination with ancient works influenced the acquaintance of the West with Greek antiquity in the pre-revolutionary period, something though that had a disastrous impact on the integrity of the monuments.

The visitor will come across some of the fragments that were left behind following the looting of the ancient monuments on the Acropolis of Athens, the treasury of Atreus at Mycenae, the temple of Aphaia on Aegina and the temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae of Arcadia, acts of pillage that contributed to the realization by the Greek people of the significance that antiquities held in the context of their collective identity.

'These are what we fought for: Antiquities and the Greek War of Independence' at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens
The Siege of Athens by Demetrios Zografos [Credit: NAM]

The third part deals with the phenomenon of philhellenism, which in the effort to raise awareness in the European public opinion, promoted in the art visual references and pictorial motifs of the ancient world. Decorative artifacts that were circulated in the philhellenic parlors and drew their inspiration from the figures of ancient warriors, as well as the presentation of the important, in terms of recording ancient monuments, activity of the French Research Expedition to Morea, stand among the characteristic exhibits.

The fourth part charts the care the Greeks took, already from the revolutionary period, to set up institutions that would safeguard and protect the ancient monuments, pursuing further study of the ancient Greek civilization. Specimens from the first collections and excavations that were carried out after the founding of the new Greek state are showcased in this unit.

The exhibition reaches its completion with the divine figure of Nike, emblematic symbol of the successful struggle. Ancient winged Nikai will also transcend the upcoming anniversary activities of the Museum, carrying into the present powerful symbolisms and messages about all those that motivate and inspire the human being.

The exhibition is enhanced by digital projections that feature landscapes of pre-revolutionary Greece, accompanied by a text of Chateaubriand, an ardent supporter of the Greek cause, who in a lively manner remarks upon the harmonious relationship of the natural landscape with antiquities.

'These are what we fought for: Antiquities and the Greek War of Independence' will run until the July 5th, 2020.

Source: National Archaeological Museum, Athens [January 30, 2020]

* This article was originally published here


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