An ancient stone wall showing many Egyptian hieroglyphics that can now be translated with Google’s cyber Rosetta Stone.                Source: Camshea / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Google Launches AI Cyber Rosetta Stone for Hieroglyphic Translations


Google, the American multinational technology giant built around a search engine that specializes in internet-related services and products, gets most of its profits from online advertising. Recently, the company released a breakthrough “cyber Rosetta Stone ” software tool. This incredibly smart machine learning tool, called Fabricius, is intelligent enough to decode ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics , and to translate messages into hieroglyphics for sharing on social media. Google’s cyber Rosetta Stone is a new idea for communicating in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in our modern, social-media driven world.

The Rosetta Stone: Key To Translating Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Hieroglyphics or “sacred carvings” are a pictorial system of symbols representing a writing system, and each of the individual pictures (hieroglyphs) can be read as either a stand-alone picture, as a symbol for a picture, or as symbol representing a sound. According to an article in the Daily Mail Google’s cyber Rosetta Stone is called Fabricius, an artificial intelligence hieroglyphics translator that can decipher ancient Egyptian symbols. This revolutionary machine learning tool is providing experts with a fast, accurate way to decode hieroglyphics by simply uploading their files to Google.

The Rosetta Stone in black and white. (Ptolemy V Epiphanes / Public domain)

The Rosetta Stone in black and white. (Ptolemy V Epiphanes / Public domain )

The launch of Fabricius coincides with the July 1799 AD anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone by French soldiers near the town of Rosetta, about 35 miles east of Alexandria in Egypt. The Rosetta Stone has fragments of the same passage written in three different scripts: Greek, Egyptian hieroglyphics and the Egyptian demotic script . Since scholars could understand ancient Greek, the Rosetta Stone became the revolutionary key for deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Building The Cyber Rosetta Stone

Google’s new Fabricius hieroglyphic translation tool is available to academics and research institutions and everyone else interested in communicating with Egyptian symbols. With Fabricius, anyone can learn about and write in the ancient Egyptian language in a fun and interactive way. Essentially, anyone can type a message with Google’s cyber Rosetta Stone to get an instant hieroglyphic translation that can be shared on social media and other communication platforms.

Fabricus is the new Google tool for translating hieroglyphics. (YouTube Screenshot)

Fabricus is the new Google tool for translating hieroglyphics. (YouTube Screenshot)

However, even if the fun of using this advanced AI tool fades, Egyptian culture enthusiasts will likely use it as an immersive learning experience for drawing their own hieroglyphs. Then they can upload their drawings and see if Fabricius can identify them from its database of ancient hieroglyphs. This use of the tool was envisioned as way of bringing people closer to ancient Egyptian heritage and culture by highlighting the importance of the preserving hieroglyphics as a language.

Calling Hieroglyphs Emojis Is A Step Too Far

Chance Coughenour, program manager at Google Arts & Culture, said in a recent blog post that until recently Egyptologists had to manually dig through many books to translate and decipher the ancient Egyptian symbol language. Fabricius is the first publicly accessible digital translation tool aimed at the study of ancient languages. The Google manager said that the easiest way to understand hieroglyphics is to imagine that they are “the ancient Egyptian equivalent of emojis.” But it is important to be skeptical of such “buzzy” headline grabbing claims.

For computer programmers, hieroglyphs can be simplified to a series of clear cut, well defined codes in a database that can be queried. In this way, Egypt’s ancient communication style is almost the opposite of a string of emojis. An emoji is a visual symbol which refines “one” concept into an image, for example: happy, sad or confused. On the other hand, ancient hieroglyphs convey many concepts, thoughts impressions and sounds. And the meaning of one symbol changes when it is interpreted in context with the other symbols surrounding it. So when the Google manager says the “easiest” way to understand hieroglyphics is to imagine that they are the ancient Egyptian equivalent of emojis, she really means this is the “simplest” metaphor for these ancient glyphs.

Learn, Play And Work With Google’s Fabricius AI

Fabricius essentially decodes Egyptian hieroglyphs with machine learning based on Google’s Cloud AutoML and AutoML Vision technologies. This easy-to-use online tool has three main sections: ’Learn , Playand Work’. To begin with, users trace hieroglyphics with their cursors to activate the machine learning software based on a short, six-step introduction that guides the user into the colorful world of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

In Fabricius’s Learning mode, a user uploads an image of a hieroglyph to Google s machine learning platform where its geometric composition is instantly compared to a database of more than 800 different hieroglyphic symbols. In Play mode, users translate their own words and messages into hieroglyphics which can be shared with family, friends and followers on social media channels such as Twitter and WhatsApp. Work mode, designed especially for academics and scholars, is only available as a desktop application for researchers to perform formal hieroglyphic translations.

Top image: An ancient stone wall showing many Egyptian hieroglyphics that can now be translated with Google’s cyber Rosetta Stone.                Source: Camshea / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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