Computer Science Cracks 18th Century Mystery

Dr. Kevin Knight, a senior research scientist at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California, with the collaboration of two Swedish linguistics, has deciphered the encrypted Copiale Cipher.  Dr. Knight created a computer algorithm to help make sense of the confusing text.  This 105 page bound volume is believe to be dated between 1760 and 1780, and until now nobody was able to read it.  The text was handwritten using Roman letters, along with other strange and abstract characters.  The process of translating the mysterious text consisted of three steps:

1.  The characters were turned into machine-readable text
2.  Software analyzed the behavior of the letters, and concluded the original language to be German
3.  The text was translated into German, then into English

The algorithm, which Dr. Knight calls an expectation-maximization algorithm, takes the text and runs it through every possible English translation, until possible interpretations are found.  These possible interpretations are then saved as a key, and the entire process restarts, meaning each time the algorithm completes a run of the text, it gets closer to its true meaning.

In the end the Copiale Cipher turned out to be the descriptions of secret rituals and beliefs of a German secret occultist society that existed during the 1730s.  Thanks to Dr. Knight’s algorithm, other ancient encrypted texts may soon be made readable again.  Computer science has given us a better glimpse and deeper understanding to lost languages and historical texts.  Dr. Knight hopes that this algorithm will one day help us decipher the meaning behind the communication of animals.

Full English Translation of the Copiale Cipher

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