Translation algorithms used to crack centuries-old secret code

Mark Brown

Translation algorithms used to crack centuries-old secret code

Computer scientists from Sweden and the United States have applied modern-day, statistical translation techniques—the sort that are used in Google Translate—to decode a 250-year old secret message.

The original document, nicknamed the Copiale Cipher, was written in the late 18th century and found in the East Berlin Academy after the Cold War. It’s since been kept in a private collection, and the 105-page, slightly yellowed tome has withheld its secrets ever since.

But this year, University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering computer scientist Kevin Knight—an expert in translation, not so much in cryptography—and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden, tracked down the document, transcribed a machine-readable version and set to work cracking the centuries-old code.

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