Software that automatically deciphers ancient language developed

Written by: Abdul Nisar
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Washington, July 1 (ANI): A computer successfully deciphered an ancient language Ugaritic in just a couple of hours.

Regina Barzilay, an associate professor in MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Ben Snyder, a grad student in her lab, and the University of Southern California's Kevin Knight are the creators.

Her work could not only help archaeologists translate other ancient languages, but also expand the number of languages that automated translation systems like Google Translate can handle.

The system makes certain assumption of the language's similarity to another, Hebrew in this case. It also depends on a systematic way to map the alphabet of one language on to the alphabet of the other.

And it assumes a similar mapping for parts of words. A word like "overloading," for instance, has both a prefix - "over" - and a suffix - "ing."

"We iterate through the data hundreds of times, thousands of times and each time, our guesses have higher probability, because we're actually coming closer to a solution where we get more consistency," said Snyder.

However, literary author Andrew Robinson is not convinced. Presupposing a language to be deciphered is an incorrect approach, he says. It also assumes that it's clear where one character ends and another begins, which is not the case with many deciphered and un-deciphered scripts.

Barzilay responded, "The decipherment of Ugaritic took years and relied on some happy coincidences - such as the discovery of an axe that had the word "axe" written on it in Ugaritic. The output of our system would have made the process orders of magnitude shorter."

Moreover, the developers insist that their system could not replace human deciphers, but at least assist them. (ANI)

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