Google ‘translate’ ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs

The mammoth technology company, Google, announced on Wednesday the launch of a new machine learning tool that can help decode Egyptian hieroglyphs in Arabic and English.

In a webinar attended by Daily News Egypt, Head of Preservation at Google Arts and Culture, Chance Coughenour, said the new artificial intelligence tool, Fabricius, will provide people around the world with an interactive experience to learn about hieroglyphs. It will facilitate the work of Egyptologists and raises awareness about the heritage of the ancient Egyptian civilization. 

Google noted that Fabricius can be found on its free Google Arts & Culture app that makes the art, heritage, and cultural wonders of over 2,000 cultural institutions from around the world more accessible.

“Everyone can experience these treasures through technologies such as Virtual or Augmented Reality, high resolution imagery, Street View, and much more,” the company said in a press statement.  

During the webinar, Coughenour said that through machine learning, Fabricius will help speed up the process of collating, cataloguing, and understanding ancient hieroglyphs.

He added that users can benefit from the new feature in three different methods. The “work” section of the tool currently allows translation of hieroglyphs into English, while Arabic translation will be available soon. It also provides an opportunity for people to learn about, write, and share their own messages using hieroglyphs. Culture-lovers will also be able to browse through a dedicated online page on Google Arts & Culture highlighting pharaonic culture, including King Tutankhamun, Pyramids of Giza, and Book of the Dead. 

Another section, named “play”, will allow users who are not experts to engage and have fun with the ancient language hence it will allow them to write and send messages using hieroglyphs.

Fabricius presents an experiment in bridging the gap between ancient and modern languages using the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae, autosuggestions of similar words and phrases, and visually similar emojis to offer anyone the ability to engage with Egyptian hieroglyphs in a fun and educational way. Noteworthy, this section is only for entertainment purposes and not for professional use.

The third section is “learn” which will allow beginners to take their first steps into the world of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“We are very excited to be launching this new tool that can make it easier to access and learn about the rich culture of Ancient Egypt. For over a decade, Google has been capturing imagery of cultural and historical landmarks across the region, from Egypt, the UAE, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and more, while making it available on Maps, Street View, and Google Arts & Culture,” Coughenour said.

“Together with our partners, we remain committed to promoting the rich history and heritage of the region, and to make it accessible to everyone.” he added. 

Since 2013, Google has digitised rich imagery of over 20 historical landmarks and sites, including Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, Petra in Jordan, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the UAE, Baalbek & the Temple of Jupiter in Lebanon, Amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia, and more.

Google has also added digital exhibitions of Palmyra and the Ummayed Mosque in Syria which can be found on the Arts & Culture website and app.

Fabricius was created in collaboration with the Australian Center for Egyptology at the Macquarie University in Australia, Psycle Interactive, Ubisoft, and Egyptologists around the world. 

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