Translation apps are improving fast , but they’re still not perfect, particularly for minority languages. Can AI and deep neural networks help smooth out the glitches?
During the World Cup in Russia there was a sharp rise in the use of Google Translate, Google reported, as football fans tried to strike up conversations with their hosts and fellow fans from around the world. The words for “stadium” and “beer” were in particularly high demand. These days the traditional phrasebook is on the way out. A recent survey from the British Council found that nearly two-thirds of 16 to 34-year-olds now rely on translation apps to help navigate the local language. But while such apps are undoubtedly getting better, they’re still not totally accurate – a fifth of those surveyed said they experienced misunderstandings while on holiday because of mistranslations on their phone.
The issue is particularly acute for speakers of non-mainstream languages. Welsh people, for example, have been noticing some particularly poor translations. One warning sign reading “Blasting in Progress” was rendered as “Gweithwyr yn ffrwydro” or “workers exploding”, for example.
And this summer, a Google Translate user discovered that typing “dog” 18 times produced a Maori translation reading: “Doomsday Clock is three minutes at twelve We are experiencing characters and a dramatic developments in the world, which indicate that we are increasingly approaching the end times and Jesus’ return.”
So why are translations glitches still happening in the age of supercomputers and machine learning?
One big problem is that words often have more than one meaning. These homographs, as they’re called, can lead to embarrassment not just for holidaymakers but for governments as well.
It is very difficult for machines to read these homographs, review where they appear in the overall content, and then assign the correct meaning. Using artificial intelligence with learning can help improve this process. By reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents that have been correctly translated the AI learns the correct translation based on the content around the homographs.
In years to come this may be a foolproof process. However for now if you want an accurate translation for company marketing, legal documents or important sections of text then expert, human translation is the only option for now.