AI News, Mysterious 15th century manuscript decoded by computer scientists using artificial intelligence

Mysterious 15th century manuscript decoded by computer scientists using artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence has allowed scientists to make significant progress in cracking a mysterious ancient text, the meaning of which has eluded scholars for centuries.

By applying algorithms designed to decode such puzzles, Professor Kondrak and his graduate student Bradley Hauer were able to decipher a relatively high number of words using Hebrew as their reference language.

However, following tweaks to the spelling, the scientists used Google Translate to convert it into English, which read: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.” “It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense,” said Professor Kondrak.

While fully comprehending the text will require collaboration with historians of ancient Hebrew, Professor Kondrak has great faith in the ability of computers to help understand human language and said he is looking forward to applying his techniques to other ancient scripts.

Mysterious 15th century manuscript decoded by computer scientists using artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence has allowed scientists to make significant progress in cracking a mysterious ancient text, the meaning of which has eluded scholars for centuries.

By applying algorithms designed to decode such puzzles, Professor Kondrak and his graduate student Bradley Hauer were able to decipher a relatively high number of words using Hebrew as their reference language.

However, following tweaks to the spelling, the scientists used Google Translate to convert it into English, which read: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.” “It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense,” said Professor Kondrak.

While fully comprehending the text will require collaboration with historians of ancient Hebrew, Professor Kondrak has great faith in the ability of computers to help understand human language and said he is looking forward to applying his techniques to other ancient scripts.

Scientists claim to crack an elusive centuries-old code — and it’s Hebrew

For hundreds of years, the meaning of its unique script, lengthy texts and esoteric drawings of flora, fauna, the cosmos and plenty of naked women has entirely eluded scholars.

This week, international press pounced on the publication of a fresh theory that may explain the manuscript’s puzzling provenance, brought to the world by the university labs which developed the software that beat professional players at the Texas hold ’em poker game.

According to René Zandbergen, a noted Voynich manuscript devotee who has crafted a comprehensive website detailing the intricate ins and outs of its scholarship, “the secrecy of the sale is evident from the fact that Jesuit ownership traces were erased from these books, as can been seen clearly in modern digital scans of them.”

With origins shrouded in uncertainty, the Voynich Manuscript is accepted as an elaborate hoax by some and a font of knowledge by others. Its authorship is unknown, which has led to a 360-degree array of speculation as to its creator, with theorists pointing in turn to sex-mad Egyptians, Italian witches, aliens, and Leonardo da Vinci, and even a Polish-born, Moscow-trained former pharmacist —

The earliest known citation of the manuscript is found in a circa-1665 letter, which depicts an earlier purchase (for 600 gold ducats) by Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II (1576–1612).

Circa 1665, Baresch’s heir, Joannes Marcus Marci, gave the book to renowned Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher, along with a frustrated letter in which he stated, “Such Sphinxes as these obey no one but their master.”

What is presumed fact about the 22.5 x 16 centimeter bound calf parchment codex is that it originally contained 116 numbered leaves, of which 14 are now missing.

The Arizona scientists took four samples from the codex and came up with 95 percent certainty of a date of circa 1404-1438.

Add to that the manuscript’s history and the scientific evidence that demonstrates it was definitely written in the early fifteenth century and then mix in dozens, if not hundreds, of proposed translations and theories, each more bizarre and fantastic than the next, and you have an object that is truly irresistible,”

While attending Yale graduate school Fagin Davis worked as the assistant to the curator of pre-1600 manuscripts, where she was put in charge of Voynich-related correspondence for several years and responded to requests for images.

In their article, the University of Alberta computer scientists describe the Voynich manuscript as “the most challenging type of a decipherment problem.”

“Inspired by the mystery of both the Voynich Manuscript and the undeciphered ancient scripts, we develop a series of algorithms for the purpose of decrypting unknown alphabetic scripts representing unknown languages,”

The scientists performed their study on 43 pages of the manuscript, which contain 17,597 words and 95,465 characters, transcribed into 35 characters of the Currier alphabet —

The algorithm basically allows the scientists to change word and letter order until they arrive at a more logical outcome.

They use three systems for identifying the text’s language: the letter frequency method, the decomposition pattern method and the trial decipherment method.

According to the authors, “While there is no complete agreement between the three methods about the most likely underlying source language, there appears to be a strong statistical support for Hebrew from the two most accurate methods…

Among his fields of interest, Argamon researches computational methods for style-based analysis of natural language using machine learning and explores applications in intelligence analysis and forensic linguistics.

The new algorithm generated by the team “looks quite good for modern problems, such as code breaking, but in its application to the Voynich Manuscript, it becomes much more speculative,”

The application to the Voynich Manuscript is based on the premise that the person who wrote it encoded by both substituting letters for one another, and mixing up their order as in an anagram.

“If they were to use the same switching of letters and word order with other languages, I would assume they could find quasi sentences in other languages as well,”

17 times, Google Translate will give you something that looks like a sentence if you squint hard enough Scholar Fagin Davis added to Argamon’s concerns a secondary issue that Google Translate would be searching for Modern Hebrew patterns, not Medieval.

To test Google Translate’s ability, Fagin Davis sampled a portion of a Roman-alphabet transcription of the manuscript, which she explained is customarily done using a substitution system called the European Voynich Alphabet.

I’m certainly not suggesting that the manuscript is encoded Hindi (although someone somewhere certainly has), but I think depending on Google Translate is certainly problematic and weakens their argument,”

said Morgenstern, whose expertise includes reading inscriptions and manuscripts, including in decoding Arabic texts written in the Mandaic (Aramaic) script.

“An acceptable decryption has to follow logical rules so that others can reproduce your results and it has to result in a defensible, legible, intelligible text.

As far as the lingering question of why the team didn’t initially enlist the help of a Hebrew expert, Kondrak had this to say: “We could not find a Medieval Hebrew expert and cryptologist at our university.

Using AI to uncover the mystery of Voynich manuscript

The mysterious text in the 15th-century Voynich manuscript has plagued historians and cryptographers since its discovery in the 19th century.

Recently, U of A computing science professor Greg Kondrak, an expert in natural language processing, and graduate student Bradley Hauer used artificial intelligence to decode the ambiguities in human language using the Voynich manuscript as a case study.

Their first step was to address the language of origin, which is enciphered on hundreds of delicate vellum pages with accompanying illustrations.

They initially hypothesized that the Voynich manuscript was written in Arabic but after running their algorithms, it turned out that the most likely language was Hebrew.

Kondrak and Hauer hypothesized the manuscript was created using alphagrams, defining one phrase with another, exemplary of the ambiguities in human language.

'It turned out that over 80 per cent of the words were in a Hebrew dictionary, but we didn't know if they made sense together,' said Kondrak.

''She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.' It's a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.'

An avid language aficionado, Kondrak is renowned for his work with natural language processing, a subset of artificial intelligence defined as helping computers understand human language.

Using AI to uncover ancient mysteries

Computing scientists at the University of Alberta are using artificial intelligence to decipher ancient manuscripts.

This ancient mystery made its way to the artificial intelligence community, where computing science professor Greg Kondrak was keen to lend his expertise in natural language processing to the search.

Kondrak and his graduate student Bradley Hauer set out to use computers for decoding the ambiguities in human language using the Voynich manuscript as a case study.

The next step is how do we decipher it.” Kondrak and Hauer hypothesized the manuscript was created using alphagrams, defining one phrase with another, exemplary of the ambiguities in human language.

It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.” Without historians of ancient Hebrew, Kondrak explained that the full meaning of the Voynich manuscript will remain a mystery.

An avid language aficionado, Kondrak is renowned for his work with natural language processing, a subset of artificial intelligence defined as helping computers understand human language.

AI didn’t decode the cryptic Voynich manuscript — it just added to the mystery

If you were compiling a list of the world’s 100 oddest objects — just the weirdest stuff that human civilization has excreted over the millennia — then you’d have to leave room somewhere for the Voynich manuscript.

In it, computer science professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer describe a method for finding the source language of ciphered texts, before turning that method on the manuscript itself, and deciding that it was originally written in Hebrew, before being encoded in its current form.

Scattered throughout are illustrations of unidentifiable plants, astrological diagrams, doodles of castles and dragons, and a particularly odd section that shows naked women bathing in pools connected by flowing tubes.

“I’ve seen suggestions that it’s encoding Arabic, Aztec, Roma, Latin, Italian.” Davis says people tend to study the “paleographic, forensic, and artistic evidence” to find a country of origin, and with that, a source language, but she adds that computational analysis is also used.

They figured, like many cryptologists before them, that by computing certain qualities of the text — like, for example, how often each letter and each combination of letters appear — they could create a statistical fingerprint that could be compared to other languages.

(Despite what some coverage suggested, this process did not involve neural networks or deep learning — just good old-fashioned statistical analysis, aka lots of counting and percentages.) And it worked!

According to Professor Shlomo Argamon, a computational linguist at Illinois Institute of Technology, the preliminary test results are “perhaps slightly questionable, but not more so than many other results often published in the scientific literature.” And so, with their algorithmic pattern-matcher trained and tested, Kondrak and Hauer turned to the Voynich manuscript.

The sentence in question is this: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.” Kondrak says, “It’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript but it definitely makes sense.” But even within the paper, he and Hauer describe how they had to fudge the translation to produce this result.

(“Any time you have to resort to Google Translate over someone who has actually studied the language, you’re going to lose some credibility,” notes Fagin.) But this is where the assumption that the manuscript was written in anagrams becomes even more crucial.

If you assume that the manuscript was written in Hebrew and that it’s written in anagrams, then it becomes much, much easier to “translate.” Then, not only can you rearrange all the characters in a word to find something that makes sense, but you can add in your own vowels.

As Pelling said in a final email: “Through my book [...] and my blog, I’ve probably written more actual historical research about the Voynich than anyone else alive: I’ve given talks on it, and made a TV documentary on it, and have been interviewed about it on radio and TV numerous times… And I still can’t read it.

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