UPDATE: 2,000 Year Old Scrolls

They won $700,000 for this

Sponsored by

Stay up-to-date with AI.

The Rundown is the world’s fastest-growing AI newsletter, with over 500,000+ readers staying up-to-date with the latest AI news, tools, and tutorials.

Our research team spends all day learning what’s new in AI, then distills the most important developments into one free email every morning.

In October, we shared a story of a 21-year-old who used AI to decipher a word in an ancient scroll. Today, we bring you an exciting update from the world of artificial intelligence and 2,000-year-old scrolls.

It’s all tied to the same $1,000,000 challenge set out by Brent Seales and Nat Friedman: the Vesuvius Challenge.

“When we launched this less than a year ago, I honestly wasn’t sure it’d work,” said Friedman this week. “You know, people say money can’t buy happiness, but they have no imagination. This has been pure joy. It’s magical what happened; it couldn’t have been scripted better.”

The backstory of these scrolls is pretty interesting because they’re not trying to use AI to translate the writings. No, there’s a reason this is called the Vesuvius Challenge.

Hundreds of papyrus scrolls were severely burned when Vesuvius erupted nearby in AD79. The scrolls were in the library of a luxury Roman villa, and they’ve never actually been unrolled since. Opening the scrolls to read them would cause them to crumble into a crisp.

Participants in the contest had to use AI or any other tool to analyze high-quality CT scans taken of the scrolls in Oxford, England.

A few months back, 21-year-old Luke Farritor won $40,000 when he managed to decipher a whole word on one of the scrolls.

And on Monday, three researchers won the grand price of $700,000 when they used AI to decipher a large portion of one of the carbonized documents.

They had to decipher four scroll passages of at least 140 characters to win this prize, with at least 85 per cent of the characters recoverable.

And they say they did so over a rush of 20 hour days spurred on by adrenaline with that big prize in mind.

It’s believed that having achieved this level of AI detective work; they can apply the same process to decipher about 800 crumbling scrolls known as the Herculaneum Papyri.

The author of the scrolls is believed by experts to be Epicurean philosopher Philodemus based on the themes of these latest excerpts. The author wrote about music, food, and how to enjoy life in the newly uncovered writings.

Think of it like a blog post from 2,000 years ago.

Maybe someday, after something as disastrous as a volcanic eruption, 2,000 years later, someone will be using AI to decipher your old tweets.

This philosopher even seems to dunk on rival philosophers over on the Roman Stoicism camp, who “have nothing to say about pleasure, either in general or in particular, when it is a question of definition.”

The winning team was led by Youssef Nader, an Egyptian student from Berlin, and included Jiluan Schiliger, a Swiss robotics student. Oh, the third member of the team was Luke Farritor. Remember him? He progressed from deceiphering one word in October to multiple complete phrases!

The trio have made their ink detection software code public, so who knows what we’ll get to read next? Maybe some AD79 sexts. Congrats to the three students for winning the contest’s largest prize of $700,000.

We fulfil referral rewards at the end of the month.

Join the conversation

or to participate.