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Experience Old Olympia, Greece

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    School students use a mobile app at the ancient site of Olympia in southwestern Greece. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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    The digital restoration project gives visitors an immersive recreation of temples and competition areas as they walk through the ruins. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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    Despite the name, the site of the ancient Olympic Games was nowhere near Mount Olympus, which stands hundreds of miles north of Olympia. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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    Museum technician Kostas Baskakis uses an app at the Olympic Museum in Athens, Greece. The installation is part of the digital restoration project by Microsoft and the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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    Museum supervisor Xenia Vlahou uses a mixed-reality HoloLens headset as she stands in front of a model of Ancient Olympia at the Olympic Museum. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)
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Greece is home to many old-world wonders. Perhaps no site is so celebrated as Olympia, location of the earliest Olympic Games. A partnership between Microsoft Corporation and Greece’s Ministry of Culture and Sport is using the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) to give visitors a peek at ancient Olympia firsthand.

The God of heaven commands worship of Him alone. (Exodus 20:3) But in ancient Greece, false gods abounded. Olympia was a pagan sanctuary with over 70 temples for various deities.

Around 776 B.C., Greek officials held the first recorded religious and athletic festival on the site. For over 1,000 years, the Olympic Games took place amid Olympia’s temples every four years. Scholars say Emperors Theodosius I and II eventually abolished pagan cults and practices, including the games.

Over time, earthquakes and mudslides decimated Olympia’s buildings. Today, rows of decaying columns and crumbling walls hint at how the area once looked.

An AI and AR project called “Ancient Olympia: Common Grounds” promotes ongoing research and preservation of Olympia. It allows modern spectators using virtual and augmented reality to see beyond ruins and view the history and architecture of ancient Olympia.

“Common Grounds is a unique way of experiencing Greece’s proud cultural heritage. Visitors around the world can virtually visit ancient Olympia and experience history firsthand,” says Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Using drones and sensors, Greek culture ministry officials helped Microsoft map and build representations at Olympia. Computer-generated images let visitors virtually tour the sites where ancient athletes competed in running, javelin throwing, wrestling, boxing, horse racing, and other events.

The Common Grounds technology will operate in the “metaverse,” a futuristic online world aimed at merging real and virtual life. (Read Into the Metaverse.)

Users can watch a virtual re-creation of temples and competition areas as they “walk” through the ruins. Tilt up and a towering statue of Zeus plated in ivory and gold comes into view. Turn left and peer into the workshop used by the famed sculptor Phidias. Users pinch, zoom, and rotate monuments on smartphones and flip between inside and outside views.

Tech product designer David Rose sees some danger in augmented reality. He says the tech could add “crutches” that erode personal thinking skills and further divide people as users immerse themselves in their own separate “realities.”

Despite the cautions, Rose remains optimistic about the potential. Augmented reality devices “can be empathy machines and the most powerful educational tool ever invented,” he says.

Do you see dangers in augmented reality? What might be the potential be for Christians?

Why? Technology makes it possible to depict important historical sites with greater accuracy than ever before and helps people who may not get to travel the world to increase knowledge with virtually immersive experiences.