Translation Technology Is Getting Better. What Does That Mean For The Future?

On what kind of translation came next

“The next level really in the history was to go to statistical machine translation, where these things were eased up by essentially counting. The technology’s pretty easy to explain because you create effectively a dictionary, and the dictionary has multiple translations, so ‘bank’ would be the financial institution, and you have another word for the river bank, and then you assign the probability. How likely is it that I’m talking about a river bank or a financial institution? Just the word by itself. And then the statistical models would then also consider the context, and that too you can simply derive from large amounts of data. The Googles of the world obviously have a lot of data, and so by taking a ton of text data, you count how often is ‘bank’ translated as a financial institution, when you had as a context ‘Deutsche,’ Deutsche Bank, and do you talk about the river bank, if I say the word ‘Mississippi’ and the river bank.”

On progressing to neural machine translation

“The neural machine translation effectively, you would say, is also a statistical learning. However, it does this with multiple layers of abstraction. So that’s where the word ‘deep’ comes from, because you have several layers of neurons that build on top of each other. And what that gives you is a way of abstracting at various levels about language, about speech, about vision, without us actually explicitly telling it.”

On if this technology will eventually make it so that people don’t have to learn other languages

“We get that question a lot, but actually I happen to be a bit contrarian in the sense that I think it’s going to be the opposite. Because I think what automatic translation does for us as humans is really open doors. So we wind up actually traveling to countries or meeting people that we would have otherwise never met or never interacted with.

“So I think having technology as a door-opener I feel will actually help us to make more contact with people who speak other languages, simply because it is nice, it opens our world more and we start understanding each other more, and that’s of course what it’s all about.”