Ancient Greek inscriptions are often fragmented. The software Ithaca can suggest what letters are missing. Image: DeepMind

Deepmind’s AI Filling in Missing Text from Greek Antiquity Scrolls

In a paper published in Nature that describes a new AI called Ithaca, the scientists who created the model say it is three times more accurate than humans when restoring letters in damaged Greek texts that have deteriorated over the centuries.

Dr. Thea Sommerschield, a co-author of the research at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and Harvard University, said inscriptions were important as they were written directly by ancient people and were evidence of the thought, language, society, and history of past civilizations.

“But most surviving inscriptions have been damaged over the centuries. So their texts are now fragmentary or illegible,” she said,

We found articles this week in both and that found the new algorithm pretty exciting news. Sommerschield and colleagues fed the algorithm around 63,000 transcribed ancient Greek inscriptions. Like all machine learning systems, Ithaca looks for patterns in this information, encodes this information in complex mathematical models, and uses these inferences to suggest text, date, and origins.

Yes, Ithaca is around 62% accurate in reading inscriptions alone. It had a 72% accuracy when it had a little help from a historian adding suggestions.

While Ithaca is not the first algorithm looking at ancient writings it is so far the most accurate and continues to improve.

“Just as microscopes and telescopes have extended the range of what scientists can do today, Ithaca aims to singularly augment and expand the capabilities to study one of the most significant periods of human history,” said Dr Yannis Assael, a co-author of the work from the AI company DeepMind.

And Ithaca is used for more than missing text. It also dates and locates the various styles of the Greek writers and how they changed over the millennium.

The team also thinks Ithaca might be used on the cuneiform tablets left behind in Sumeria. Using the most modern of AI technology to decipher some of the oldest thoughts left by some of the original thinkers of mankind, is amazing to be sure. Artificial intelligence could bring to life lost texts, from imperial decrees to the poems of Sappho.


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