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Elon Musk to Back Project Using AI to Read Ancient Scrolls

Elon Musk to Back Project Using AI to Read Ancient Scrolls

Elon Musk offered financial support to a project that aims to use artificial intelligence to read ancient Roman scrolls that were damaged by a volcano’s eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.

Musk Foundation will support this,” he said in a Wednesday (Feb. 7) post on X, formerly known as Twitter, replying to a post about the Vesuvius Challenge by Nat Friedman, an investor, entrepreneur, developer and former CEO of GitHub.

The scrolls were “flash-fried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.” and have been unreadable, Friedman said in his post.

Last year, the project awarded $700,000 to a team who read a portion of one scroll with “computer vision, machine learning and hard work,” according to a Monday (Feb. 5) press release.

Musk told Bloomberg Wednesday that his charitable foundation will contribute “whatever amount is useful” to the project. He added: “I’m in favor of civilizational enlightenment,” per the media outlet’s report.

Friedman told Bloomberg that the project expects to spend $2 million in the next step of its effort to read entire scrolls and as much as $10 million to read every scroll that has been uncovered so far from the site.

The scrolls, known as the Herculaneum Papyri, were discovered in the 18th century, according to the press release. More than 800 scrolls were found — all rolled up and reduced to “lumps of carbonized ash.”

“In 2023 we got from 0% to 5% of a scroll,” the release said. “In 2024 our goal is to go from 5% of one scroll to 90% of all four scrolls we have scanned, and to lay the foundation to read all 800 scrolls.”

Musk announced the formation of an AI company, xAI, in July, saying it aimed to “understand reality.” This became the sixth company Musk oversees, with the others being Tesla, SpaceX, X, Neuralink and The Boring Company.

The AI firm’s website said at the time: “The goal of xAI is to understand the true nature of the universe.”

It was reported in January that xAI is in talks with investors worldwide, aiming to raise $6 billion in funding at a proposed valuation of $20 billion.

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