Thursday, February 01, 2018

Still Not Decoded...,

Smithsonian | The Voynich Manuscript has baffled cryptographers ever since the early 15th-century document was rediscovered by a Polish book dealer in 1912. The handwritten, 240-page screed, now housed in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, is written from left to right in an unknown language. On top of that, the text itself is likely to have been scrambled by an unknown code. Despite numerous attempts to crack the code by some of the world’s best cryptographers, including Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park team, the contents of the enigmatic book have long remained a mystery. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying. The latest to give it a stab? The Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Alberta.

Bob Weber at the Canadian Press reports that natural language processing expert Greg Kondrak and grad student Bradley Hauer have attempted to identify the language the manuscript was written in using AI. According to a press release, the team originally believed that the manuscript was written in Arabic. But after feeding it to an AI trained to recognize 380 languages with 97 percent accuracy, its analysis of the letter frequency suggested the text was likely written in Hebrew. 

“That was surprising,” Kondrak says. They then hypothesized that the words were alphagrams, in which the letters are shuffled and vowels are dropped. When they unscrambled the first line of text using that method they found that 80 percent of the words created were found in the Hebrew dictionary. The research appears in the journal Transactions of the Association of Computational Linguistics.

Neither of the researchers are schooled in ancient Hebrew, so George Dvorsky at Gizmodo reports they took their deciphered first line to computer scientist Moshe Koppel, a colleague and native Hebrew speaker. He said it didn’t form a coherent sentence. After the team fixed some funky spelling errors and ran it through Google Translate, they came up with something readable, even if it doesn’t make much sense: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.”