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Events and Learning Cohorts

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The Promise and Peril of Artificial Intelligence and Sacred Texts

December 7 @ 7:00 PM CST


Dr. Brent Seales has spent more than two decades restoring cultural and historical artifacts, such as the 1,700-year-old, charred, En-Gedi Scroll (above), which would disintegrate if touched. Dr. Seales developed a way to digitally reconstruct the fragile document through a “virtual unwrapping technique,” revealing the book of Leviticus, part of the oldest Hebrew Bible ever found after the Dead Sea scrolls. His breakthrough work received international recognition and was featured in Science Advances, the New York Times, Le Monde, the Times of London, and on NOVA. He is now working with his team on the carbonized Herculaneum scrolls, among the most iconic — and inaccessible — of the world’s damaged manuscripts. These scrolls look like lumps of coal and were found in a grand villa thought to be owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 buried Herculaneum and all its treasures in gas and volcanic mud. The emerging work on these scrolls is the subject of this Nature article, as well as this New York Times story.

Upper House is delighted to welcome Dr. Seales back to UW-Madison to learn how he is applying methods inspired by Artificial Intelligence (AI) to rescue and reveal long-hidden, ancient texts. He will address the current state-of-the-art in making lost texts unlost, the renaissance unfolding in the fields of papyrology and the classics, as well as implications for biblical manuscript studies. He will also discuss the potential pitfalls of AI-based methods, which have the power to interpolate, postulate, and even invent very plausible results that are completely false. Join us for an evening with Dr. Brent Seales, as we consider the exciting possibilities AI methods offer for rescuing and redeeming hidden ancient texts, as well as the tensions and risks such methods present.

About Brent Seales, Ph.D.

Brent Seales is the Gill Professor and Chair of the Computer Science Department at University of Kentucky, as well as Principal Investigator for the Digital Restoration Initiative, funded in part by a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He earned both his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from the University of Wisconsin and a B.S. from the University of Southwestern Louisiana; his areas of specialization are digital imaging and cultural heritage. As a result of his innovations, Dr. Seales has gained a reputation among collectors and curators across the globe as “the guy who can read the unreadable.”



December 7
7:00 PM CST
Event Category:


Daniel Hummel


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Madison, WI 53715 United States
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