News site The Atlantic recently ran a very interesting background article on, well, a lot of things of interest to me at least. It's titled 'Searching for Lost Knowledge in the Age of Intelligent Machines' and uses the Antikythera Mechanism as an example of how modern online databases may make it possible to find and combine information in a way that we never thought would be possible. Read the whole article, it is truly interesting. I'll copy unto here only a small portion that I would like to share as I think it presents an opportunity that is very important to us: the furthuring of the understanding of the ancient Hellenic culture and religion.

"Scholars have long wrestled with 'undiscovered public knowledge,' a problem that occurs when researchers arrive at conclusions independently from one another, creating fragments of understanding that are 'logically related but never retrieved, brought together, [or] interpreted,' as Don Swanson wrote in an influential 1986 essay introducing the concept. 'That is,' he wrote, 'not only do we seek what we do not understand, we often do not even know at what level an understanding might be achieved.' In other words, on top of everything we don’t know, there’s everything we don’t know that we already know.

Thirty years after he published his essay, we no longer have to rely on human contrivances alone. Now, with the ubiquity of the internet and the rise of machine learning, a new kind of solution is beginning to take shape. The infrastructure of the web, built to link one resource to the next, was the beginning. The next wave of information systems promises to more deeply establish links between people, ideas, and artifacts that have, so far, remained out of reach—by drawing connections between information and objects that have come unmoored from context and history.

Discovery in the online realm is powered by a mix of human curiosity and algorithmic inquiry, a dynamic that is reflected in the earliest language of the internet. The web was built to be explored not just by people, but by machines. As humans surf the web, they’re aided by algorithms doing the work beneath the surface, sequenced to monitor and rank an ever-swelling current of information for pluckable treasures.

The search engine as we know it now is undergoing a period of radical reinvention, in processing power and in structure, and is likely to be transformed even more dramatically in the years to come. If there is any hope of finding new information about the Antikythera Mechanism—or, for that matter, any additional devices like it—it is likely that machines, working alongside human researchers, will play a pivotal role.

People who are thinking deeply about the future of search tend to agree that this sort of machine inference will be possible, yet there’s still no straightforward path to such a system. For all the promise and sophistication of machine learning systems, inference computing is only in its infancy. Computers can carry out massive contextualization tasks like facial recognition, but there are still many limitations to even the most impressive systems. Nevertheless, once machines can help process and catalogue huge troves of text—a not-too-distant inevitability in machine learning, many computer scientists say—it seems likely that a flood of previously forgotten artifacts will emerge from the depths of various archives.

Artificially intelligent systems are already creating and distilling robust models of human knowledge, but they’ll still be constrained by the datasets that feed into them. So there will be some degree of luck involved if, for instance, a machine happens upon an ancient document that reveals the whereabouts of more machines like the Antikythera Mechanism, or determines who built the one found on the Mediterranean seafloor so many decades ago. At the same time, the evolution of information systems makes remarkable discoveries seem more possible now than ever before."

The article references the Antikythera Mechanism but the same holds true for information about ancient religious festivals, about which deities were worshipped where, about details of how rituals were performed and sacrifices given. Information about all of these things could be in a box in some museum's cellar. They could be in a paper written about something else entirely. They could be found one day, linked and interpreted to further our knowledge and modern technology and search engine technology will play a major role then. I'm eager for these times; eager to know more. Because one thing is for sure: there are large gaps in our knowledge now.