Ubisoft, a company better known for its games and their occasional face-removing bugs, has announced it has branched out into academia with a machine learning system for the translation of ancient hieroglyphs.
Assassin's Creed: Origins, released in October last year, took Ubisoft's popular assassinate-'em-up parkour-simulator to Ptolemaic-era Egypt - which, naturally, involves quite a lot of hieroglyphic writing. During the development of the game, Ubisoft joined forces with Google Cloud and Psycle to launch The Hieroglyphics Initiative, a project which would not only allow the company to quickly generate its own hieroglyphs for in-game use but also promised to speed the translation of real-world hieroglyphics into modern languages.
'At Ubisoft, our mission, obviously, is to entertain. But more than that, our will really is to enrich peoples' lives,' explains Ubisoft's Pierre Miazga of the project's inception. 'That is why, more than developing a videogame, we became convinced that we had a role to play in research.'
The technology developed as part of the initiative generates copies of the hieroglyphs, passes each individual glyph through a machine-learning system to recognise it, then analyses the entire sentences to produce its final translation. The data source for the machine learning model, though, didn't come from academia: It came from the Assassin's Creed community, which contributed more than 80,000 glyphs in a single night.
'To be honest, we didn't know what to expect when we called out to players for help, it was a first in many ways,' Miazga explains. 'We surely didn’t expect such a massive and rapid response. The Hieroglyphics Initiative wouldn't have made such rapid progress if it wasn’t for the fans' contribution to the machine learning process.'
Following its early successes, Ubisoft has been working on making the tool more widely available: An enhanced version of the hieroglyph drawing tool will be made available as a teaching aid, the company has confirmed, while it plans to make an open-source translator available by the end of this year.
More information on the project is available in the Ubisoft blog post.