Rome Reborn: A New 3D Virtual Model Lets You Fly Over the Great Monuments of Ancient Rome

Thir­teen years ago here on Open Cul­ture, we first fea­tured Rome Reborn 2.2, a dig­i­tal 3D mod­el of the ancient metrop­o­lis at the height of its glo­ry in the fourth cen­tu­ry. And that rebirth has con­tin­ued apace ever since, and just last week bore the fruit of Rome Reborn 4.0, through which you can get a fly­ing tour in the video above. Inter­cut with the com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed recon­struc­tions is footage of the ruins of the very same parts of the city as they exist in Rome today. The oppor­tu­ni­ty for com­par­i­son thus pro­vid­ed allows us to appre­ci­ate not just the upgrades in the lat­est Rome Reborn’s lev­el of detail, but also its degree of real­ism.

With each revi­sion, the fourth-cen­tu­ry Eter­nal City recre­at­ed in Rome Reborn looks more like real­i­ty and less like a video game. But that does­n’t mean you can’t get the same thrill of explor­ing it that you would from a video game, which is part of the appeal of load­ing up the lat­est ver­sion of the mod­el on the vir­tu­al-real­i­ty app Yorescape, a prod­uct of the “vir­tu­al tourism” com­pa­ny Fly­over Zone Pro­duc­tions found­ed by Rome Reborn’s project leader Bernard Frisch­er.

And it is Frisch­er him­self who leads the in-app tour of “sites exem­pli­fy­ing the city’s geog­ra­phy, mar­kets, tem­ples, and much, much more,” enriched by “Time Warps spread around the city that allow you to tog­gle between the view today and the view from the same van­tage point in antiq­ui­ty.”

This is heady stuff indeed for enthu­si­asts of ancient Rome, who will no doubt be eager to see for them­selves the new and improved dig­i­tal mod­els of ancient Roman struc­tures like the Cir­cus Max­imus, the Arch of Titus, the Por­ti­cus Livi­ae, and the Tem­ple of Min­er­va. These and many oth­ers besides appear in the Rome Reborn 4.0 demo reel just above, which shows off the cul­mi­na­tion of 27 years of work so far by Frisch­er and his team. A dig­i­tal archae­ol­o­gist at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty, Pro­fes­sor Frisch­er has point­ed out still-absent fea­tures to come, such as “avatars infused with AI” with whom the twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry tourist can inter­act. We’ll have to wait for future iter­a­tions to do so, but sure­ly we can sum­mon the patience by remem­ber­ing that Rome isn’t reborn in a day.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Recon­struc­tion of Ancient Rome: Take A 30-Minute Stroll Through the City’s Vir­tu­al­ly-Recre­at­ed Streets

A Huge Scale Mod­el Show­ing Ancient Rome at Its Archi­tec­tur­al Peak (Built Between 1933 and 1937)

The Chang­ing Land­scape of Ancient Rome: A Free Online Course from Sapien­za Uni­ver­si­ty of Rome

An 8‑Minute Ani­mat­ed Flight Over Ancient Rome

The Old­est Known Pho­tographs of Rome (1841–1871)

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Surprisingly Long History of Auto-Tune, the Vocal-Processing Technology Music Critics Love to Hate

In the fall of 1998, pop music changed for­ev­er — or at least it seems that way today, a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry lat­er. The epochal event in ques­tion was the release of Cher’s come­back hit “Believe,” of whose jagged­ly frac­tured vocal glis­san­do no lis­ten­er had heard the likes of before. “The glow-and-flut­ter of Cher’s voice at key points in the song announced its own tech­no­log­i­cal arti­fice,” writes crit­ic Simon Reynolds at Pitch­fork, “a blend of posthu­man per­fec­tion and angel­ic tran­scen­dence ide­al for the vague reli­gios­i­ty of the cho­rus.” As for how that effect had been achieved, only the tech-savvi­est stu­dio pro­fes­sion­als would have sus­pect­ed a cre­ative mis­use of Auto-Tune, a pop­u­lar dig­i­tal audio pro­cess­ing tool brought to mar­ket the year before.

As its name sug­gests, Auto-Tune was designed to keep a musi­cal per­for­mance in tune auto­mat­i­cal­ly. This capa­bil­i­ty owes to the efforts of one Andy Hilde­brand, a clas­si­cal flute vir­tu­oso turned oil-extrac­tion engi­neer turned music-tech­nol­o­gy entre­pre­neur. Employ­ing the same math­e­mat­i­cal acu­men he’d used to assist the likes of Exxon in deter­min­ing the loca­tion of prime drilling sites from processed sonar data, he fig­ured out a vast sim­pli­fi­ca­tion of the cal­cu­la­tions the­o­ret­i­cal­ly required for an algo­rithm to put a real vocal record­ing into a par­tic­u­lar key.

Rapid­ly adopt­ed through­out the music indus­try, Hilde­brand’s inven­tion soon became a gener­ic trade­mark, like Kleenex, Jell‑O, or Google. Even if a stu­dio was­n’t using Auto-Tune, it was almost cer­tain­ly auto-tun­ing, and with such sub­tle­ty that lis­ten­ers nev­er noticed.

The pro­duc­ers of “Believe,” for their part, turned the sub­tle­ty (or, tech­ni­cal­ly, the “smooth­ness”) down to zero. In an attempt to keep that dis­cov­ery a secret, they claimed at first to have used a vocoder, a syn­the­siz­er that con­verts the human voice into manip­u­la­ble ana­log or dig­i­tal sig­nals. Some would also have sus­pect­ed the even more ven­er­a­ble talk­box, which had been made well-known in the sev­en­ties and eight­ies by Earth, Wind & Fire, Ste­vie Won­der, and Roger Trout­man of Zapp. Though the “Cher effect,” as it was known for a time, could plau­si­bly be regard­ed as an aes­thet­ic descen­dant of those devices, it had an entire­ly dif­fer­ent tech­no­log­i­cal basis. A few years after that basis became wide­ly under­stood, con­spic­u­ous Auto-Tune became ubiq­ui­tous, not just in dance music but also in hip-hop, whose artists (not least Rap­pa Ternt San­ga T‑Pain) used Auto-Tune to steer their genre straight into the cur­rents of main­stream pop, if not always to high crit­i­cal acclaim.

Used as intend­ed, Auto-Tune con­sti­tut­ed a god­send for music pro­duc­ers work­ing with any singer less freak­ish­ly skilled than, say, Fred­die Mer­cury. Pro­duc­er-Youtu­ber Rick Beato admits as much in the video just above, though giv­en his clas­sic rock- and jazz-ori­ent­ed tastes, it does­n’t come as a sur­prise also to hear him lament the tech­nol­o­gy’s overuse. But for those will­ing to take it to ever-fur­ther extremes, Auto-Tune has giv­en rise to pre­vi­ous­ly unimag­ined sub­gen­res, bring­ing (as empha­sized in a recent Arte doc­u­men­tary) the uni­ver­sal lan­guage of melody into the lin­guis­ti­cal­ly frag­ment­ed are­na of glob­al hip-hop. As a means of gen­er­at­ing “dig­i­tal soul, for dig­i­tal beings, lead­ing dig­i­tal lives,” in Reynolds’ words, Auto-Tune does reflect our time, for bet­ter or for worse. Its detrac­tors can at least take some con­so­la­tion in the fact that recent releas­es have come with some­thing called a “human­ize knob.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Evo­lu­tion of Music: 40,000 Years of Music His­to­ry Cov­ered in 8 Min­utes

How the Yama­ha DX7 Dig­i­tal Syn­the­siz­er Defined the Sound of 1980s Music

What Makes This Song Great?: Pro­duc­er Rick Beato Breaks Down the Great­ness of Clas­sic Rock Songs in His New Video Series

The Dis­tor­tion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Cre­at­ed “a McDonald’s Gen­er­a­tion of Music Con­sumers”

How Com­put­ers Ruined Rock Music

Bri­an Eno on the Loss of Human­i­ty in Mod­ern Music

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Generative AI for Everyone: A Free Course from AI Pioneer Andrew Ng

Andrew Ng–an AI pio­neer and Stan­ford com­put­er sci­ence professor–has released a new course called Gen­er­a­tive AI for Every­one. Designed for a non-tech­ni­cal audi­ence, the course will “guide you through how gen­er­a­tive AI works and what it can (and can’t) do. It includes hands-on exer­cis­es where you’ll learn to use gen­er­a­tive AI to help in day-to-day work.”  The course also explains “how to think through the life­cy­cle of a gen­er­a­tive AI project, from con­cep­tion to launch, includ­ing how to build effec­tive prompts,” and it dis­cuss­es “the poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties and risks that gen­er­a­tive AI tech­nolo­gies present to indi­vid­u­als, busi­ness­es, and soci­ety.” Giv­en the com­ing preva­lence of AI, it’s worth spend­ing six hours with this course (the esti­mat­ed time need­ed to com­plete it). You can audit Gen­er­a­tive AI for Every­one for free, and watch all of the lec­tures at no cost. If you would like to take the course and earn a cer­tifi­cate, it will cost $49.

Gen­er­a­tive AI for Every­one will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Google Launch­es a Free Course on Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Sign Up for Its New “Machine Learn­ing Crash Course”

Com­put­er Sci­en­tist Andrew Ng Presents a New Series of Machine Learn­ing Courses–an Updat­ed Ver­sion of the Pop­u­lar Course Tak­en by 5 Mil­lion Stu­dents

Stephen Fry Reads Nick Cave’s Stir­ring Let­ter About Chat­G­PT and Human Cre­ativ­i­ty: “We Are Fight­ing for the Very Soul of the World”

Discover the Mikiphone, the World’s First Portable Record Player: “Fits a Jacket Pocket; Goes into a Lady’s Handbag” (1924)

The iPod shuf­fle recent­ly enjoyed a bit of a come­back on Tik­Tok.

Can the Mikiphone be far behind?

The inven­tion of sib­lings Mik­lós and Éti­enne Vadász, the world’s first pock­et record play­er caused a stir when it was intro­duced a cen­tu­ry ago, nab­bing first prize at an inter­na­tion­al music exhi­bi­tion and find­ing favor with mod­ernist archi­tect Le Cor­busier, who hailed it for embody­ing the “essence of the esprit nou­veau.”

Unlike more recent portable audio inno­va­tions, some assem­bly was required.

It’s fair to assume that the Stan­ford Archive of Record­ed Sound staffer deft­ly unpack­ing antique Mikiphone com­po­nents from its cun­ning Sony Dis­c­man-sized case, above, has more prac­tice putting the thing togeth­er than a ner­vous young fel­la eager to woo his gal al fres­co with his just pur­chased, cut­ting edge 1924 tech­nol­o­gy.

A peri­od adver­tise­ment extols the Mikiphone’s porta­bil­i­ty …

Fits in a jack­et pock­et

Goes in a lady’s hand­bag

Will hang on a cycle frame

Goes in a car door pock­et

Ide­al for pic­nics, car jaunts, riv­er trips

…but fails to men­tion that in order to enjoy it, you’d also have to schlep along a fair amount of 78 RPM records, whose 10-inch diam­e­ters aren’t near­ly so pock­et and purse-com­pat­i­ble.

Mai­son Pail­lard pro­duced approx­i­mate­ly 180,000 of these hand-cranked won­ders over the course of three years. When sales dropped in 1927, the remain­ing stock was sold off at a dis­count or giv­en away to con­test win­ners.

These days, an authen­tic Mik­phone can fetch $500 and upward at auc­tion. (Beware of Miki­phonies!)

Relat­ed Con­tent

Behold the “Book Wheel”: The Renais­sance Inven­tion Cre­at­ed to Make Books Portable & Help Schol­ars Study Sev­er­al Books at Once (1588)

Behold the Jacobean Trav­el­ing Library: The 17th Cen­tu­ry Fore­run­ner to the Kin­dle

The Walk­man Turns 40: See Every Gen­er­a­tion of Sony’s Icon­ic Per­son­al Stereo in One Minute

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.



Stephen Fry Reads Nick Cave’s Stirring Letter About ChatGPT and Human Creativity: “We Are Fighting for the Very Soul of the World”

Observers have expressed a vari­ety of reac­tions to the orga­ni­za­tion­al dra­ma unfold­ing even now at Ope­nAI, the non-prof­it behind the enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar Chat­G­PT. Some have already writ­ten spec­u­la­tive laments in case of Ope­nAI’s total dis­so­lu­tion, mourn­ing the great strides in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence that would thus be for­sak­en. It’s safe to say that Nick Cave will not do the same: hav­ing used his newslet­ter The Red Hand Files to cast doubt on AI’s abil­i­ty to write a great song — and to con­demn a set of Chat­G­PT-gen­er­at­ed lyrics in his own style — he more recent­ly told a fan exact­ly “what’s wrong with mak­ing things faster and eas­i­er” through AI.

“Chat­G­PT rejects any notions of cre­ative strug­gle, that our endeav­ors ani­mate and nur­ture our lives giv­ing them depth and mean­ing,” Cave writes. “It rejects that there is a col­lec­tive, essen­tial and uncon­scious human spir­it under­pin­ning our exis­tence, con­nect­ing us all through our mutu­al striv­ing.”

In “fast-track­ing the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the human spir­it by mech­a­niz­ing the imag­i­na­tion,” it works toward elim­i­nat­ing “the process of cre­ation and its atten­dant chal­lenges, view­ing it as noth­ing more than a time-wast­ing incon­ve­nience that stands in the way of the com­mod­i­ty itself.” But the cre­ative impulse “must be defend­ed at all costs, and just as we would fight any exis­ten­tial evil,” we should fight the forces set against it “tooth and nail, for we are fight­ing for the very soul of the world.”

These are strong words, and they sound even stronger when read aloud in the Let­ters Live video above by Stephen Fry. One may sense a cer­tain irony here, giv­en Fry’s well-known technophil­ia, but he and Cave have made com­mon cause before, whether call­ing for gov­ern­ment sup­port of the arts or turn­ing up for the coro­na­tion of King Charles III. “Fry refers to Cave’s Mur­der Bal­lads album in his book The Ode Less Trav­elled,” adds one Youtube com­menter, “while Fry is rumored to be the per­son with ‘an enor­mous and ency­clo­pe­dic brain’ in Cave’s song ‘We Call Upon the Author.’ ” Chat­G­PT could well be described as ency­clo­pe­dic, but in no ordi­nary sense does it have a brain — the very thing of which authors are now called upon to make the fullest pos­si­ble use.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nick Cave Answers the Hot­ly Debat­ed Ques­tion: Will Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence Ever Be Able to Write a Great Song?

A New Course Teach­es You How to Tap the Pow­ers of Chat­G­PT and Put It to Work for You

Chat­G­PT Writes a Song in the Style of Nick Cave–and Nick Cave Calls it “a Grotesque Mock­ery of What It Is to Be Human”

Noam Chom­sky on Chat­G­PT: It’s “Basi­cal­ly High-Tech Pla­gia­rism” and “a Way of Avoid­ing Learn­ing”

Demys­ti­fy­ing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” and How It Was Inspired by Milton’s Par­adise Lost

Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch, Mar­garet Atwood, Stephen Fry & Oth­ers Read Let­ters of Hope, Love & Sup­port Dur­ing COVID-19

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Making of the Last Beatles Song, “Now and Then”: A Short Film

Dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, Peter Jack­son’s doc­u­men­tary, Get Back, used cut­ting-edge soft­ware to restore footage from the Bea­t­les’ Let It Be record­ing ses­sions. If you watched the film, you know it was mag­ic. Now, his tech­nol­o­gy offers us anoth­er gift–the final Bea­t­les song.

As the short film explains above, the mak­ing of the song, “Now and Then,” began in 1995, when Paul, George and Ringo start­ed work­ing with a demo record­ed by John Lennon dur­ing the 1970s. The project even­tu­al­ly stalled out when the trio could­n’t pristine­ly extract Lennon’s vocals. Then George Har­ri­son died, and anoth­er two decades slipped by. Last year, Jack­son’s soft­ware sal­vaged the project, allow­ing the Bea­t­les to cap­ture the elu­sive Lennon vocal and com­plete their final song. “Now and Then” is set to be released on Novem­ber 3, accom­pa­nied by a music video cre­at­ed by Jack­son him­self. Stay tuned for that.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How Peter Jack­son Used Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence to Restore the Video & Audio Fea­tured in The Bea­t­les: Get Back

Watch Paul McCart­ney Com­pose The Bea­t­les Clas­sic “Get Back” Out of Thin Air (1969)

A Sneak Peek of Peter Jackson’s New Bea­t­les Doc­u­men­tary Get Back: Watch the New Trail­er

How Peter Jack­son Made His State-of-the-Art World War I Doc­u­men­tary, They Shall Not Grow Old: An Inside Look


Leonardo da Vinci Created the Design for the Miter Lock, Which Is Still Used in the Panama and Suez Canals

“A Man, a Plan, a Canal — Pana­ma”: we all know the piece of infra­struc­ture to which this famous palin­drome refers. But who, exact­ly, is the man? Some might imag­ine Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt in the role, giv­en his over­sight of the pro­jec­t’s acqui­si­tion by the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. But it’s more com­mon­ly thought to be George W. Goethals, the Roo­sevelt-appoint­ed chief engi­neer who brought it to com­ple­tion two years ear­ly. Then again, one could also make the case for French diplo­mat Fer­di­nand de Lesseps, who orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived of not only the Pana­ma Canal but also the Suez Canal. And as long as we’re reach­ing back in his­to­ry, how does Leonar­do da Vin­ci strike you?

True, Leonar­do died rough­ly four cen­turies before the Pana­ma Canal broke ground. But that its mech­a­nism works at all owes to one of his many inven­tions: the miter lock, doc­u­ment­ed in one of his note­books from 1497. The design, as explained in the Lesics video above, involves “two V‑shaped wood­en gates” attached with hinges to the sides of a riv­er.

Giv­en their shape, the water flow­ing through the riv­er nat­u­ral­ly forces the gates to close, one side form­ing a neat joint with the oth­er. Inside, “as the water lev­el ris­es, the pres­sure on the gate increas­es,” which seals it even more tight­ly. To facil­i­tate re-open­ing the “per­fect water­tight lock” thus formed, Leonar­do also spec­i­fied a set of sluice valves in the gates that can be opened to even out the water lev­els again.

The twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry builders of the Pana­ma Canal ben­e­fit­ed from tech­nolo­gies unavail­able in Leonar­do’s time: pow­er­ful motors, for instance, that could open and close the gates more effi­cient­ly than human mus­cle. And though it has under­gone improve­ments over the past cen­tu­ry (such as the replace­ment of the geared sys­tem attached to those motors with even more effec­tive hydraulic cylin­ders), its struc­ture and oper­a­tion remain vis­i­bly derived from Leonar­do’s ele­gant miter lock, as do those of the Suez Canal. About 80 ships pass through those two famous water­ways each and every day, and ships of a size scarce­ly imag­in­able in the fif­teenth cen­tu­ry at that: not bad for a cou­ple pieces of 500-year-old engi­neer­ing.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Explore the Largest Online Archive Explor­ing the Genius of Leonar­do da Vin­ci

Leonar­do da Vinci’s Inven­tions Come to Life as Muse­um-Qual­i­ty, Work­able Mod­els: A Swing Bridge, Scythed Char­i­ot, Per­pet­u­al Motion Machine & More

Watch Leonar­do da Vinci’s Musi­cal Inven­tion, the Vio­la Organ­ista, Being Played for the Very First Time

The Inge­nious Inven­tions of Leonar­do da Vin­ci Recre­at­ed with 3D Ani­ma­tion

How to Build Leonar­do da Vinci’s Inge­nious Self-Sup­port­ing Bridge: Renais­sance Inno­va­tions You Can Still Enjoy Today

Leonar­do da Vin­ci Draws Designs of Future War Machines: Tanks, Machine Guns & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Researchers Use AI to Decode the First Word on an Ancient Scroll Burned by Vesuvius

In the year 79, AD Mount Vesu­vius erupt­ed, bury­ing both Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum. In 1750, an Ital­ian farm­work­er dis­cov­ered an entombed sea­side vil­la in Her­cu­la­neum while dig­ging a well. When exca­vat­ed, the res­i­dence yield­ed hun­dreds of scrolls, all of them turned into what looked and felt like lumps of ash, and prac­ti­cal­ly all of them unrol­lable, let alone read­able. Only in 2015 did humankind — or more specif­i­cal­ly, Uni­ver­si­ty of Ken­tucky com­put­er sci­en­tist Brent Seales and his team — devel­op the tech­nol­o­gy that could let us see what texts these ancient scrolls con­tain. Even­tu­al­ly, a par­ti­cle accel­er­a­tor and machine learn­ing came into play. This time­line comes from the web site of the Vesu­vius Chal­lenge, “a machine learn­ing and com­put­er vision com­pe­ti­tion to read the Her­cu­la­neum Papyri.”

Fund­ed by tech­nol­o­gy entre­pre­neurs Nat Fried­man and Daniel Gross, the Vesu­vius Chal­lenge has giv­en out $260,000 of its $1 mil­lion of prizes so far, includ­ing $40,000 to under­grad­u­ate student/engineer Luke Far­ri­tor, who iden­ti­fied ten let­ters in a sec­tion of one scroll, and $10,000 to bioro­bot­ics grad­u­ate stu­dent Youssef Nad­er, who sub­se­quent­ly and inde­pen­dent­ly dis­cov­ered those same let­ters.

The word they form? Por­phyras, ancient Greek for “pur­ple”: a col­or, inci­den­tal­ly, that sig­ni­fied wealth and pow­er in the ancient world, not least because of the enor­mous amount of labor required to extract it from nature. That the Her­cu­la­neum Papyri have start­ed to become read­able also rep­re­sents the cul­mi­na­tion of a sim­i­lar­ly impres­sive effort, albeit one based on tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment rather than the extrac­tion of sea-snail glands.

As Nicholas Wade writes in the New York Times, the cur­rent method “uses com­put­er tomog­ra­phy, the same tech­nique as in CT scans” — exe­cut­ed with the afore­men­tioned par­ti­cle accel­er­a­tor — “plus advance­ments in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence” used “to help dis­tin­guish ink from papyrus.” You can learn more about the Vesu­vius Chal­lenge in the video above. Its cre­ator Gar­rett Ryan, of ancient-his­to­ry Youtube chan­nel Told in Stone, has been pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his expla­na­tion of how 99 per­cent of ancient texts were lost — which means these charred scrolls could hold a great deal of knowl­edge about the ancient world. Do they con­tain, as Ryan fan­ta­sizes, the lost books of Livy, the dia­logues of Aris­to­tle, poems by Sap­pho? We’ll only know when some­one fig­ures out how best to use tech­nol­o­gy to decode them all. Arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence may be the key to the future, as we’ve often heard in recent years, but in this par­tic­u­lar case, it offers a promis­ing key to the past.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Ancient Scrolls, Charred by the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius in 79 AD, Are Now Being Read by Par­ti­cle Accel­er­a­tors, 3D Mod­el­ing & Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence

Hid­den Ancient Greek Med­ical Text Read for the First Time in a Thou­sand Years — with a Par­ti­cle Accel­er­a­tor

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

2,000-Year-Old Man­u­script of the Ten Com­mand­ments Gets Dig­i­tized: See/Download “Nash Papyrus” in High Res­o­lu­tion

How 99% of Ancient Lit­er­a­ture Was Lost

A New­ly-Dis­cov­ered Fres­co in Pom­peii Reveals a Pre­cur­sor to Piz­za

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.