Can Machine Learning be applied to decipher the script of lost ancient languages? (Languages that many years ago were being used, but currently are not used in the human societies and have been forgotten e.g. Avestan language.)

And if yes, is there already any successful experiment to decipher the script of unknown ancient languages Machine Learning?


I say yes it definitely could be. But i agree with Skim you need some information as a starting point. Egyptian hieroglyphs were only (recently) understood following the discovery of the Rosetta Stone (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Stone). With the same message in both known and unknown language the program could find the/a correlation. Without that info you would have to guess the potential content of the message. The results would then be confirmation-biased: how could you know it had worked properly? Say the program managed to ‘translate’, outputting a coherent phrase about bananas, great. Even if it was very consistent across multiple samples and 99% confidence, without any “control set data” it could just as easily be about, say, fish or even a prophesy on the super-bowl winner. Still a fun project tho.

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    $\begingroup$ This is very similar issue to the Symbol Grounding Problem - which is a general problem with important consequences for AI $\endgroup$ – Neil Slater Dec 7 '18 at 13:38

I would guess no, because if the language is unknown (no data available on it), then we would not have training data with which the machine learning algorithm could learn from.

If it is related to some known language, then some statistical analysis can lead to a guess at decipherment (assuming certain similarities among the two languages).

If interested on general language decipherment, see the following where they decipher scripts using available information on the language of interest: http://www.aclweb.org/anthology/W99-0906. They utilize the Expectation Maximization algorithm.

I'm sure more google searching can lead to other examples that use machine learning algorithms, but they would most likely have some known information or a body of assumptions to make our problem scope easier.


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