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Italian high schoolers are helping bring secret Vatican archives to the masses

Transcribing them is difficult for a human expert, Maiorino said. It's even more difficult for a computer, which needs to identify letters to transcribe and make text searchable. Enter an unlikely group of helpers: hundreds of high schoolers in Rome who are teaching the computers how to read the handwritten Latin.

"The program doesn't know which of these letters are an 'e' or a 'b' so by highlighting them we can teach the program," explained one of the students taking part in the effort.

The idea to include the high schoolers was Paolo Merialdo's, a professor at Roma Tre University in Rome. Merialdo enlisted 600 Italian high school students to help the computers develop a linguistic artificial intelligence.

"We are providing a sort of 'Google Translate' for paleographers," Merialdo said.

Artificial intelligence can "democratize" these documents by allowing them to be digitized and made accessible beyond the Vatican walls. The technology could also one day be used to decipher ancient manuscripts anywhere. If successful, so many more people will be able to explore the ancient writings that surround them.

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