The secret of the 75,000-character “Copiale Cipher” is finally out! The manuscript is an enigmatic cryptic document, meticulously encrypted by a group of people believed to belong to a 18th century secret German society. The characters are a mix of Roman letters and abstract symbols. It was finally broken by an international team of cryptographers.
More resources: http://stp.lingfil.uu.se/~bea/copiale/
The Brute Force Approach … and “Complete Failure”
The manuscript, clad in a green and gold embroidered cover (pic above), was found in East Berlin Academy after the Cold War. Leading the effort was computer scientist Kevin Knight of USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He programmed his computer to track the occurrences of different commonly-occurring set of letters, aiming to find patterns and extract the grammar. The distribution of Roman and Greek characters was also a clue to the puzzle. Or so they thought.
As Knight says, this brute force approach,
took quite a long time and resulted in complete failure
After many such frustrating efforts, they completely eliminated the Roman characters, realizing that these were meant to mislead. The team then painstakingly tried to associate modern German consonants and vowels to different symbols or symbol groups. This finally made sense. The first clear phrase in German meant: Ceremonies of Initiation. What better could you have hoped for when translating the text of a secret society?
Try Your Hand
We present a conversion table for the symbols.
Now, we present a few pages, just to give you a glimpse of what the cryptographers were up against!
The last one
Knight, who is a world-renowned translation expert and coder extraordinaire, has designed many translation software packages that have been adopted by companies like Apple and Intel. He says:
Translation remains a tough challenge for artificial intelligence.
As long as the Babel fish doesn’t evolve or is not intelligently designed, speaking a completely abstract language shall remain a great human fascination.