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Can Artificial Intelligence provide a New Look in Education and Egyptology?, by Guilherme Mateus

Can Artificial Intelligence provide a New Look in Education and Egyptology?, by Guilherme Mateus

What do Artificial Intelligence (AI), Education, and Egyptology share? Until some time ago, not much, but we are now watching a new world unveil right before our eyes. In the past few months, many advancements have been made in using AI as a work tool, including, for example, with Chat GPT, Motion, or Dall-E. The most important advancement (for the purpose of this article) was made by Sora, an AI “that can create realistic and imaginative scenes from text instructions”, as Sora´s website states. This computer tool can create videos (that can become literal films), and which are derived from only a simple, short text. Although, we can still see some imperfections, when compared to some time ago, the results achieved in the last few months are really impressive.

This tool is, however, steeped in controversy: Sora has been portrayed negatively by some who use the arguments presented in movies like The Terminator (1984), The Matrix (1999), or, more recently, The Creator (2023). Detractors against the tool cite the lack of control, replacement of humans in various forms, and the possible rogue nature of the technology. These are all aspects that ten years ago belonged to the “sci-fi” section. Yet, in the present day, these problems are starting to have a more prominent place in the real world, and seen in this light, it can be hard to create a positive opinion on this tool. Additionally, dozens of articles have been written recently, some of which present a positive tone, telling us to “not be afraid” and that AI is the future, while others again present the negative view, speculating that animators, filmmakers, and creators could lose their livelihoods to this tool. Another positive example, AI is already being used to monitor students’ progress, helping them and professors to organize ideas. Sometimes, we are even using it without thinking about it. The use of Siri or Alexa on our phones is proof of that. But, on the negative side, the creation of deep fakes and fake news is a trend that is starting to become a real problem in our civilization, one which this tool could continue to exacerbate, if used irresponsibly.

Fig. 1: Example of a frame belonging to a video created using Sora. The description states: “Historical footage of California during the gold rush” (Sora AI Home Page)

Leaving aside the negative, however, I propose a beneficial use of this tool: where AI, education, and academia, in the specific case of Egyptology, can be used in a better way.  Picture this scenario: if we have a room full of people, and all of them, in some way, like or work with ancient Egypt (scholars, archaeologists, students, travellers, professors, etc.), I can almost guarantee that they would all jump at the chance to see an ancient city from a realistic perspective. This desire extends to specialists in all areas of historical focus, from antiquity or medieval history to archaeology. And why is that? The answer is simple, everyone who studies ancient history dreams of seeing places like Karnak, Abydos, and Cairo, flourish to life as they were three thousand years ago. Not only that, but the reconstructions of these cities can be used for academic purposes, to study them and create new pedagogy, but also for bringing attention to them among the wider public, for entertainment. For scholars, we have the opportunity to study elements of Egyptian culture, that are held in museums across all four continents, or to visit the ruins within Egypt itself, but we can always dream higher. This is where Sora, or any other AI software, can use its capabilities.

Until today, the recreation of ancient Egyptian cities could only be accomplished with 3D images and various 3D maps. Furthermore, in most cases, these images had to be created by a team of Egyptologists, archaeologists, and 3D designers. Even though this process has produced a lot of the recreations that we see today, it requires a lot of background work and communication between the experts on the team. We can see an example of this with the Project Palais 3D.

The simplification of the process with AI is truly shocking. Now, just by typing an exact description of what we want, we can receive the final product after a short time. This means that if the work of an Egyptologist is well detailed, and the software has been consistently updated with excellent descriptions and data, it can result in an animation, or even an actual film, depicting what we want. An example of this is available on the front page of the Sora website and in the image above. All of that video was made from a simple text! The most important point is that this “power” is at our fingertips. I encourage everyone who reads this article to visit the website, view the results of Sora, and see exactly what I’m talking about!

With the advances made by this technology, we can see the creation and transformation of a lot of teaching materials. This tool is precisely something that professors can use to teach or inspire increased interest in ancient Egypt. It is a perfect complement to the increasing use in university classroom of films, comics, televisions series, and computer games, in other words, popular culture products. There is the potential for temples being reconstructed, with priests and high-ranking officials, or perhaps an important religious festival, where we can see the mythology and cultic dimension of this ancient culture coming to life. We could even recreate entire cities, just like we see in movies, TV series, or games, but this time, we can create exactly what we want to show the world.

In this way, AI provides a singular way of popularizing studies, presenting them to new students, through a new vehicle and form of education. The difficulties that professors and lecturers face in relating to a younger audience or class is well known. Even sogetting the hang of this new software can be the turning point of that issue. This tool provides a new way of pedagogy and can certainly be a new adventure, one that new students and established Egyptologists alike would want to see. Imagine a lecture where, when talking about the importance of certain cities, the professor has the ability to show an animation that depicts exactly the major structures of that city, or magical rituals, or festivals, and so on. The possibilities are endless.

Author: Guilherme Salvador Mateus, Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Lisboa

Featured image: Sora AI Home Page (https://openai.com/sora)

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Abraham I. Fernández Pichel - Rogério Sousa - Eleanor Dobson - Filip Taterka - Guillermo Juberías Gracia - José das Candeias Sales
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