AI May Have Just Decoded a Mystical 600-Year-Old Manuscript That Baffled Humans for Decades

Sarah Cascone:

One of the world’s most infamous mysteries may have just been solved, thanks not to human genius, but to artificial intelligence. Named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish book dealer who purchased it in 1912, the 240-page Voynich manuscript is written in an unknown script and an unknown language that no one has been able to interpret—until now.

Computing scientists at the University of Alberta claim to have cracked the code to the inscrutable handwritten 15th-century codex, which has baffled cryptologists, historians, and linguists for decades. Stymied by the seemingly unbreakable code, some have speculated it was written by aliens. Experts have even posited that the whole thing is a hoax with no hidden meaning. Today, housed at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Connecticut, the manuscript’s delicate vellum pages are illustrated with botanical drawings, astronomical diagrams, and naked female figures.

When it came to tackling the centuries-old mystery, professor Greg Kondrak and grad student Bradley Hauer put their expertise in natural language processing to good use, running algorithms that compared the document’s text to the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” in no less than 380 different languages. According to the computer, the Voynich manuscript was written in Hebrew.