Data science for the business of fundraising.

deciphering ancient code

Can Machine Learning Crack This 4,000-Year-Old Mystery?

Be sure to check out this fascinating article about some cutting edge machine learning being used to decode the language used by the 4,000-year-old Indus Valley Civilization! For more than a century, thousands of examples of Indus “seals” – small tablets with a few symbols accompanied by some sort of animal – have been found across stretches from India to Iraq. Hundreds of attempts at decoding these symbols have been made, but no one seems happy with the results as yet.

This is one of the more difficult examples of a machine learning problem that we’ve heard of: Aside from the fact that computers are notoriously bad at deciphering human symbols such as letters, numbers, and pictures, scholars don’t have much to go on such as a Rosetta Stone which was used to decode Egyptian hieroglyphs. We’re not even sure whether these symbols represent a language at all!

The article provides good descriptions of the Markov and n-gram models researchers used to sort through patterns and even fill in missing pieces. But perhaps the most interesting component of the research was the collaboration between machine learning and the cognitive sciences which provided context to the emerging language. This collaboration led to new discoveries and is a powerful testament to breaking down the barriers (whether artificial or real) in our own prospect development shops. We have found time and again that fundraising teams working together towards one goal are some of the most effective.

It is not enough to have accurate predictive models or experienced prospect researchers working in vacuums. Today’s most successful prospect development teams have resources deployed at every point from Identification through Portfolio Optimization & overall Metrics. Most importantly, these teams work collaboratively to move prospects through the pipeline and to work the system in an integrated – rather than siloed – manner.

One of the ways BWF Insight is helping clients do this is through the implementation of our Total Pipeline Solution, which is designed to integrate the key prospect development functions into one continuum of service that fosters collaboration, increases efficiency, and maximizes team performance.

To learn more about BWF Insight and The Total Pipeline Solution check us out at

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