23 March 2018

The Noyon Chess Pieces

The image shown below makes up about 25% of the photo behind the corresponding link to Flickr.com. The other 75% is the text on the museum label explaining this particular display.

Chess Pieces - 11th c. Noyon, France © Flickr user Dan McEwan under Creative Commons.

The French caption in the photo says, 'Identification of the pieces from the Noyon chess game, first half of the 11th century.' I could have copied the other 75% of the Flickr image to a text file and translated it. Instead I ran the image through an OCR conversion service which gave me the French text as its output. Then I ran that text through a translation service that gave me the English text. Here is the result after some minor corrections I made:-

The chess game of Noyon was unearthed in 1986 during a dig site carried out prior to the construction of a hotel about fifty meters to the south of the cathedral. It was discovered in the filling of a well whose abandonment was dated to the first half of the 11th century. The introduction of the game of chess in France being dated from the second half of the 10th century, the pieces of Noyon are among the oldest known in the country.

The origin of the game of chess • The birth of the game of chess is still difficult to locate, although it is agreed to place it in Asia, between India and China, around the year 500. The earliest known archeology pieces were found in Uzbekistan and date back to the year 700. The game then represents the allegory of a battle with pieces composed of soldiers armed with swords and shields, mounted elephants or warships.

The spread of the game to the Arab world, from the middle of the 7th century, is accompanied by a stylization of motifs because of the religious prohibition to represent animate beings. It's this game which will be broadcast in Europe, probably through Muslim Spain or southern Italy, around the 10th century.

The kingdoms of Europe then take up the stylized forms of the game before appropriating them and developing motifs specific to their culture, replacing the councilor (the fierce) by the lady ['la dame'] and the elephant by the madman ['le fou'] or the bishop for the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

The chess pieces • In its Arabic version, chess pieces are called the king (shah), the counselor (vizier or farzin), the elephant (al wire), the horse, the roukh (represented by a battle tank) and the soldier.

The museum label has an additional paragraph explaining the evolution of the Arabic names for the pieces into their French equivalents. Since that becomes confusing when translated into English, I left it out. In the previous edition of Flickr Friday (see Not so Flickrless Friday), I discussed briefly an important aspect of AI:-

A convolutional neural network (CNN) is also the key to the technology behind Deepmind's AlphaZero. When people talk about artificial intelligence, they are often referring to a CNN.

This post uses two more examples of AI -- an OCR conversion service input to a translation service -- that again illustrate how AI is altering our world in ways that are not always evident. Not so long ago, OCR software combined with translation software would have produced mostly gibberish.

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