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Elon Musk decides to Back a Project of AI Usage to Read Ancient Scrolls

Elon Musk offered monetary support to a project that targets to use artificial intelligence to decipher ancient Roman scrolls that were spoiled by a volcano’s eruption nearly 2,000 years ago. “Musk Foundation will support this,” he stated in a Wednesday (7th February) post on X, formerly twitter, responding to a post about Nat Friedman’s Vesuvius Challenge. Nat Friedman is an investor, developer, entrepreneur and former CEO of GitHub.

The scrolls were “flash-fried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.” and have been rendered unreadable, Friedman stated in his post. Last year, the project endowed $700,000 to a team who deciphered a portion of one scroll with “computer vision, machine learning and hard work,” according to a Monday (5th February) press release.

Musk told Bloomberg that his charitable foundation will donate “whatever amount is useful” to the project. He added: “I’m in favor of civilizational enlightenment,” according to the media outlet’s report. Friedman informed Bloomberg that the project expects to spend $2 million in the next step of its struggle to read entire scrolls and as huge as $10 million to read every scroll that has been unearthed so far from the site.

The scrolls, called the Herculaneum Papyri, were discovered way back in the 18th century, according to the press release. Over 800 scrolls were found — all rolled up and virtually 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’s backing underlines the role of private funding in evolving AI applications and unlocking historical mysteries.

Musk announced the founding of an AI company, xAI, in July, stating it aimed to “understand reality.” This became the 6th enterprise Musk oversees, with the others being Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, X, and The Boring Company. The AI firm’s website stated at the time: “The goal of xAI is to understand the true nature of the universe.” It was reported in January that xAI is negotiating with investors worldwide, targeting to raise $6 billion in funding at a proposed valuation of $20 billion.


Elon Musk’s announcement of his intention to financially back this kind of an innovative project aimed at deciphering ancient Roman scrolls is a significant development for the field of artificial intelligence and historical research both.

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