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College students use AI to decode ancient scroll burned in Mount Vesuvius

“Some of these texts could completely rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world."

College students use AI to decode ancient scroll burned in Mount Vesuvius

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 C.E., it buried entire cities in volcanic materials. While Pompeii is the most famous site affected by the natural disaster, the nearby villa of Herculaneum was also laid to waste—including over 800 precious scrolls found inside Herculaneum’s library, which were carbonized by the heat, making them impossible to open and recover their contents.

Which brings us to the Vesuvius challenge, started by computer scientist Brent Seales and entrepreneurs Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross in March 2023. The contest would award $1 million in prizes to whoever could use machine learning to successfully read from the scrolls without damaging them.

On February 5, the prize-winning team was announced.


The team consisted of three savvy college students— Youssef Nader in Germany, Luke Farritor in the US, and Julian Schilliger in Switzerland—working with each other from across the globe.

Each student had a prior individual accomplishment in the challenge before teaming up. Farritor first deciphered a word from the scroll ((ΠΟΡΦΥΡΑϹ, or “porphyras,” which means “purple” in ancient Greek), after which Nader was able to read multiple column from the scroll, in addition to Julian Schilliger creating 3D map renderings of the papyrus.

Nader, Farritor and Schillinger eventually combined their talents to train machine-learning algorithms to decipher more than 2,000 characters. Contest organizers estimated a less than 30% success rate for even less characters.

So, what exactly did the scrolls say? Turns out, the ancient cultures were just as curious about what makes us truly happy in life as we are today.

From the Vesuvius Challenge/ scrollprize.org

The translated text, thought to be written by Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, appears to be a philosophical discussion on pleasure, and how it’s affected by things like music and food. And quite possibly “throwing shade” as stoicism by calling it “an incomplete philosophy because it has ‘nothing to say about pleasure.”

“We can’t escape the feeling that the first text we’ve uncovered is a 2,000-year-old blog post about how to enjoy life,” the Vesuvius Challenge website writes.

The first Vesuvius Challenge resulted in 5% of one scroll being read. For 2024, the goalpost has been moved to being able to read 90% of all four scrolls currently scanned, and to lay the foundation to read all 800 scrolls, and possibly other texts found at the Herculaneum library.

“Some of these texts could completely rewrite the history of key periods of the ancient world,” Robert Fowler, a classicist and the chair of the Herculaneum Society, told Bloomberg. “This is the society from which the modern Western world is descended.”

Using artificial intelligence to create a future has been a prime topic of conversation as of late, but this story is a great example of how AI can give us rare glimpses into the past as well. It's pretty incredible to think about how many ancient mysteries could be solved as technology continues to advance in the years to come.

But no matter how much knowledge we gain, it feels safe to say that pleasure might always an enigma.

"The Carol Burnett Show" had one of the funniest outtakes in TV history.

"The Carol Burnett Show" ran from 1967 to 1978 and has been touted as one of the best television series of all time. The cast and guest stars of the show included comedic greats such as Tim Conway, Betty White, Steve Martin, Vicki Lawrence, Dick Van Dyke, Lyle Waggoner, Harvey Korman and others who went on to have long, successful comedy careers.

One firm rule Carol Burnett had on her show was that the actors stay in character. She felt it was especially important not to break character during the "Family" scenes, in which the characters Ed and Eunice Higgins (a married couple) and Mama (Eunice's mother) would play host to various colorful characters in their home.

"I never wanted to stop and do a retake, because I like our show to be ‘live,’" she wrote in her memoir, as reported by Showbiz Cheat Sheet. "So when the ‘Family’ sketches came along, I was adamant that we never break up in those scenes, because Eunice, Ed, and Mama were, in an odd way, sacred to me. They were real people in real situations, some of which were as sad and pitiful as they were funny, and I didn’t want any of us to break the fourth wall and be out of character.”

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More parents are taking 'teen-ternity leave' from work to support their teenage kids

Parenting through the teen years takes a lot more time and energy than people expect.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

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When you have a baby, it's expected that you'll take some maternity or paternity leave from work. When you have a teen, it's expected that you'll be in the peak of your career, but some parents are finding the need to take a "teen-ternity leave" from work to support their adolescent kids.

It's a flip from what has become the traditional trajectory for modern parents. Despite the fact that the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world to not have mandated paid parental leave, most parents take at least some time off when a baby is born to recover physically from pregnancy and birth and to settle into life with their tiny new human. Many parents then opt to have one parent stay home full-time during their children's younger years, as full-time childcare is often cost prohibitive, and raising babies and toddlers requires an enormous amount of time, attention and energy.

Parents often return to work when their kids are in school full-time, and many feel a bit of a respite from the relentlessness of parenting as their kids become more independent and capable of doing things on their own. It's not that older kids don't need their parents, but their needs are different. Physical parenting gives way to more complex emotional parenting as kids get older, and for a while, those emotional challenges are somewhat simple.

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People are debating the merits of a 24-hour daycare and the discussion is eye-opening

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about the need for this.

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But one "24-hour" daycare in Houston captured people's attention—and sparked a debate—when a mom posted about it on TikTok.

Adventure Kids Playcare in Houston isn't actually open 24 hours a day but it does offer childcare up to 10:00pm during the week and until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights. In the video, the mom drops her daughter off and we hear the employee tell her they close at midnight. The mom later says she picked her daughter up at 11:55pm.

Reactions to the video rand the gamut from "24-hour daycares are a brilliant idea for parents who work odd shifts" to "Moms shouldn't be leaving their kids at a daycare late at night just so they can go out," sparking a fascinating and eye-opening discussion.

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