This story is from the category Artificial Intelligence
Date posted: 02/05/2009
An ancient script that?s defied generations of archaeologists has yielded some of its secrets to artificially intelligent computers.
Computational analysis of symbols used 4,000 years ago by a long-lost Indus Valley civilization suggests they represent a spoken language. Some frustrated linguists thought the symbols were merely pretty pictures.
"The underlying grammatical structure seems similar to what?s found in many languages," said University of Washington computer scientist Rajesh Rao.
The Indus script, used between 2,600 and 1,900 B.C. in what is now eastern Pakistan and northwest India, belonged to a civilization as sophisticated as its Mesopotamian and Egyptian contemporaries. However, it left fewer linguistic remains. Archaeologists have uncovered about 1,500 unique inscriptions from fragments of pottery, tablets and seals. The longest inscription is just 27 signs long.
Rao?s team used pattern-analyzing software running what?s known as a
Markov model, a computational tool used to map system dynamics.
They fed the program sequences of four spoken languages: ancient
Sumerian, Sanskrit and Old Tamil, as well as modern English. Then they gave it samples of four non-spoken communication systems: human DNA,
Fortran, bacterial protein sequences and an artificial language.
The program calculated the level of order present in each language.
Non-spoken languages were either highly ordered, with symbols and structures following each other in unvarying ways, or utterly chaotic.
Spoken languages fell in the middle.
When they seeded the program with fragments of Indus script, it returned with grammatical rules based on patterns of symbol arrangement. These proved to be moderately ordered, just like spoken languages.
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