Dr. Brent Seales, Nat Friedman, and Daniel Gross have launched a challenge: develop a computer vision algorithm to read and decode the Herculaneum scrolls.
In Herculaneum, twenty meters of hot mud and ash bury an enormous villa once owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. Inside, there is a vast library of papyrus scrolls.
The scrolls are carbonized by the heat of the volcanic debris. But they are also preserved. For centuries, as virtually every ancient text exposed to the air decays and disappears, the library of the Villa of the Papyri waits underground, intact.
Seales and his team have been working for years to develop a process to decode the scrolls without physical manipulation. Because they’re carbonized (think paper-thin charcoal), handling them pulverizes them into shards and dust. The latest AI boom shows promise to enable methods to finally decode the writing on these documents, using imaging techniques and CV.
Nat talked about this in depth during his interview a few months back with Dwarkesh Patel.