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This World Emoji Day, Google Lets You Turn Emojis into Hieroglyphs

Fueled by the power of machine learning

Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash

In an age where humans celebrate World Emoji Day, Google has developed a brand-new AI-powered visualization tool that decodes Ancient Egyptian symbols. Fabricius gives you the ability to translate English words into hieroglyphs. Albeit with some imperfections.

While it is far from an expert’s translation, Google’s Arts & Culture team intends Fabricius to be a primer that gauges and sparks intrigue amongst the emoji-savvy individuals of today. Named after the father of epigraphy (the study of ancient inscriptions), Fabricius is a breakthrough in a field where translation needed experts to dig through books to derive meanings from hieroglyphs. While this does not render orthodox methods obsolete, it is a step in the right direction. Its three modes, Learn, Play, and Work are designed with the sole aim of sparking curiosity among those who wish to learn more about ancient languages. It’s a fairly straightforward affair, save for the research-oriented Work mode.

Learn guides you through the bare basics of ancient hieroglyphics, with a virtual Egyptologist no less.
Play lets you translate emojis and other messages into hieroglyphs to share with friends.
Work consists of a set of tools that helps real-world researchers with the translation of ancient hieroglyphs.

In fact, Fabricius was launched on Wednesday, celebrating the anniversary of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. Dating back to 196 BC, its three scripts are considered a boon when it comes to deciphering the mysterious images that make up the ancient Egyptian vernacular.

Google themselves warn that the hieroglyphs delivered by the AutoML tool may not necessarily be completely accurate. That’s to be expected from a tool that is just beginning to find its feet. But it still makes for a great conversation-starter, for Fabricius lets you share your discoveries on social media with the press of a button.

Fabricius in action. Source: Google

“The easiest way to understand hieroglyphs is to imagine that they are the ancient Egyptian equivalent of emojis,” the Fabricius site reads.

Fabricius was born from a joint effort from Google, the Australian Centre of Egyptology at Macquarie University, Psyche Interactive and Ubisoft. The French videogame company, known for its Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry franchises amongst others, had delved into hieroglyphics as they worked on their sprawling open-world game set in Egypt, Assassin’s Creed Origins.

An emoji turned to hieroglyphs. Screenshot captured by the author.

Here’s an example of Fabricius in action. While LOL and several emojis worked, I couldn’t get it to understand F. Well, it’s a start.

Hieroglyphs consist of two types: images that depict an object (called ideograms) and those that can depict a sound in Ancient Egyptian (called phonograms), much like the alphabets of modern languages. Here’s the tricky bit: some hieroglyphs can be used to convey either of these messages or both of them. For instance, a mouth could mean mouth. But it could also mean R. While I have little to no idea of how they work, it’s easy to see why this is a monumental step forward for AI and machine learning as a whole. It sets the foundation for a future where uncovering the past could be done with the help of unconventional technology.

Fabricius is merely a fledgling piece of tech at this point and is being released as an open-source tool to help researchers better study archaic languages concealed by time. With further contributions from the community, it could soon become a tool that could find widespread applications in education, from linguistics to narratives of historic significance.

But until then, send smiley faces its way and see what you get in return.




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Antony Terence

Antony Terence

0.2M+ views. 5x Top Writer. Warping between games, tech, and fiction. Yes, that includes to-do lists. Words in IGN, Kotaku AU, SUPERJUMP, The Startup, and more.

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