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Israeli researchers develop AI to translate ancient Akkadian texts

Akkadian is an ancient Semitic language that developed in ancient Mesopotamia

The Deluge tablet of the Gilgamesh epic in Akkadian. (Photo: Public Domain)

Israeli researchers from Tel Aviv University and Ariel University have created a unique artificial intelligence model that automatically translates ancient Akkadian texts written in cuneiform into English. Cuneiform is known as one of the most ancient forms of writing in human history, typically written on a clay tablet.

Akkadian is an ancient Semitic language that developed in ancient Mesopotamia and eventually became extinct some 2,000 years ago.

The Israeli researchers – Dr. Gai Gutherz, Dr. Jonathan Berant, Dr. Omer Levy and Dr. Shai Gordin – published their findings in an article entitled: “Translating Akkadian to English with Neural Machine translation.”

A large number of clay tablets written in the cuneiform script contain valuable information about the ancient Middle East region. However, the Israeli experts noted that most of these historical documents remain in their original form.

“Yet, most of these documents remain untranslated and inaccessible due to their sheer number and the limited quantity of experts able to read them,” they wrote.

The researchers also stressed the complexity of applying artificial intelligence to translate ancient texts into English.

“It can be a complex process, since it commonly requires not only expert knowledge of two different languages but also different cultural milieus,” they explained. “Digital tools that can assist with translation are becoming more ubiquitous every year, tied to advances in fields like optical character recognition (OCR) and machine translation. Ancient languages, however, still pose a towering problem in this regard. Their reading and comprehension require knowledge of a long-dead linguistic community, and moreover, the texts themselves can also be very fragmentary.”

The importance of artificial intelligence is growing and expected to play an increasingly prominent role in the future of human history.

While the applications for AI seem nearly endless, there are also potential problems with such technology. In his paper, “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era,” computer scientist and author Vernor Vinge recently warned that artificial intelligence could potentially pave the path towards a “post-human” era.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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