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Ancient Cuneiform Texts Translated By AI - Sort Of
Tens of thousands of ancient Akkadian cuneiform tablets have been digitized, awaiting translation. A crack team of archaeologists and computer scientists from Israel uses AI to translate them instantly!
(Cuneiform tablet from Sumer)
According to the study, the neural machine translation provided a BLEU4 score of 36.52 for cuneiform to English, and a score of 37.47 for transliterated cuneiform to English. BLEU4 scores are from 0 to 100, with 0 being the lowest and 100 being a perfect translation, which even a human translator could not achieve. Around 37 is considered fairly good for an early-stage translation model, explained Gutherz.
Gai Gutherz said that Google Translate, a privately-funded commercial tool that has been in existence for over a decade, would get a BLEU4 score of about 60 translating from Spanish to English.
Maybe not good enough for a Sumerian king, but we're getting there.
This sort of translation would be useful in all sorts of science-fictional situations. For example, in the Star Trek episode The Paradise Syndrome, a quick translation of the text on this protective obelisk could have saved this planet in time to do other stuff on this episode.
In their awesome scientifiction classic The Emperor of the Stars, Schachner and Zagat long for such a translator:
Two orange, dome-shaped creatures, somewhat like diving bells. The front of each bell was flattened, and in the center was a huge oval opening, covered by a translucent mica-like substance. Directly over and on each side of the opening protruded two antennae, at the end of which were round faceted knobs...
On the translucent mica-like coverings over the orifices, appeared reddish characters. There were four of them, delicate, intricate tracings, lit up by some interior fire. They resembled somewhat the old cuneiform writing of the Babylonians or the Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Al was greatly excited, "I believe they're trying to communicate with us..."
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