New Google tool helps anyone decode hieroglyphs

July 21, 2020 //By Rich Pell
Google AI tool decodes ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs
Google has introduced a new Arts & Culture tool that enables anyone to learn about and interact with ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, a system of writing using ancient Egyptian symbols.

The web-based tool, called Fabricius, lets anyone learn about, "play" with, or decode the ancient language, which combines logographic, syllabic, and alphabetic elements, and has a total of some 1,000 distinct characters. Available in English and Arabic, the tool, says the company, is named after the father of epigraphy - the study of ancient inscriptions - and was created in collaboration with the Australian Center for Egyptology at Macquarie University, digital production company Psycle Interactive, video game company Ubisoft, and Egyptologists from around the globe.

The tool offers three dedicated "gateways" in which to interact with the ancient language:

  • First, users can "Learn" about the language by following a short educational introduction in six easy steps.
  • Second, Fabricius invites users to "Play" and translate their own words and messages into hieroglyphics ready to be shared with friends and family.
  • Third, the tool offers new avenues for academic research ("Work") by enabling researchers to translate and decipher the language.

With "Learn," users are introduced to the history and study of hieroglyphs and able to interact with the tool with activities that include drawing symbols and having machine learning analyze their accuracy. In "Play," users can type text into the app and have it automatically converted into "just-for-fun" hieroglyphs.

The "Work" part of the tool is a desktop-only set of tools to assist researchers with the translation of hieroglyphs. Here, for the first time, says the company, users can upload hieroglyphic symbol images to the Fabricius Workbench for decoding through machine learning.

"So far," says Chance Coughenour, Program Manager, Google Arts & Culture, "experts had to dig manually through books upon books to translate and decipher the ancient language - a process that has remained virtually unchanged for over a century. Fabricius includes the first digital tool - that is also being released as open source to support further developments in the study of ancient languages - that decodes Egyptian hieroglyphs

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