AI Is Decoding the Vatican Secret Archives, One Pen Stroke at a Time

Tiziana Fabi, AFP/Getty Image
Tiziana Fabi, AFP/Getty Image

The Vatican Secret Archives comprise 600 collections of texts spanning 12 centuries, most of which are nearly impossible to access. The Atlantic reports that a team of scientists is hoping to change that with help from some high school students and artificial intelligence software.

In Codice Ratio is a new research project dedicated to analyzing the vast majority of Vatican manuscripts that have never been digitized. When other libraries wish to make a digital archive of their inventory, they often use optical-character-recognition (OCR) software. Such programs can be trained to recognize the letters in a certain alphabet, pick them out of hard-copy manuscripts, and convert them to searchable text. This technology posed a challenge for the Vatican, however: The many older texts in its collections are written by hand in a cursive-like script. With no spaces between the characters, it's impossible for OCR to determine what's a letter and what isn't.

To get around this, the research team at In Codice Radio tweaked OCR software so that it could recognize pen strokes instead of letters. The OCR can identify the pen strokes that make up letters in an alphabet by looking for spots in the text where the ink narrows rather than presents full gaps between characters. The strokes aren't very useful on their own, but the software can combine the pieces to form possible letters.

To help the software perform even better, researchers recruited students from 24 Italian high schools to check its work. As the researchers explain in their paper, the students were shown a list of acceptable versions of a real letter, such as the letter A, and were then given a list of characters the software had guessed might be the real letter. By selecting the characters that matched the acceptable versions, they were able to slowly teach the software the medieval Latin alphabet.

All this information, plus a database of 1.5 million Latin words that had already been digitized, eventually brought the OCR to a place where it could use artificial intelligence to identify real letters on its own. The final results aren't perfect—a good portion of the words transcribed so far contain typos—but Vatican archivists are a lot better off than they were before: The software can identify individual handwritten letters with 96 percent accuracy, and misspelled words can still provide important context to readers. The goal is to eventually use the software to digitize every document in the Vatican Secret Archives.

[h/t The Atlantic]

Google Is Celebrating Friends's 25th Anniversary With Hilarious Easter Eggs

Getty Images
Getty Images

On September 22, the more-popular-than-ever show Friends turns 25 years old, and this pop culture milestone has generated all kinds of celebrations, like the release of Central Perk coffee, a LEGO set, a “How You Doin’?” T-shirt, a jewelry collection, a theatrical Friends marathon, and more. To properly prepare for the anniversary, you’ll probably want to head to Google to learn more about the show, right? Well, now the search engine giant is even getting in on the fun with some Friends-inspired Easter eggs. 

All you need to do is either Google your favorite character’s full name or the first name followed by “Friends.” Not to give too much away—it really is a nice surprise—but type in “Joey Tribbiani.” A pizza icon will appear under the Knowledge Panel (located beneath the picture) on the right side of the screen. Click on the pizza to see an animation, followed by one of Joey's most recognizable (and relatable) lines. To annoy coworkers, friends, family members, and/or anyone else in earshot, just keep clicking on the icon. 

But the best Easter egg pops up when you Google “Friends glossary.” At the top of the page, you'll get funny definitions for words like pivot, woopah, unagi, unfloopy, and plenty of other running jokes from the show. Between the glossary and the Easter eggs, you won’t be able to get “Smelly Cat” out of your head, but you'll at least wind up with a unique trifle recipe.

PopSockets Is Rolling Out a Line of Drink Holders

PopSockets
PopSockets

PopSockets have become something of a fidgeting consumer’s dream. The cute and accordion-esque accessory knob that attaches to phones allows for an improved grip and gives people something to noodle with. Now, the company is hoping you’ll recognize the value in having a PopSockets appliance for your hot and cold drinks.

The PopThirst Cup Sleeve and the PopThirst Can Holder resemble insulated sleeves you can purchase for beverages. But these sleeves have a socket for a PopGrip attachment, which you can thread between your fingers to make for a more secure grip. This might be beneficial in the car, where bumpy roads can prompt more spills.

A PopSockets PopThirst cup sleeve is pictured
PopSockets

Holding a drink with the PopGrip acting as a handle seems a little more precarious. Most people will not do this, but if they do, you will probably find the consequences on Instagram.

Since going on sale in 2014, PopSockets has become a phone accessory giant, moving 100 million units in 2018.

The PopThirst Cup Sleeve and Can Holder are both one-size-fits-all and retail for $15 each.

[h/t The Verge]

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