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Taking Language skills to the Next Level

Science fiction can often be seen as a sketch of what the future will be like. One of the most inspiring is Star Trek where the first episode was broadcasted in 1966, and new episodes and movies have kept on coming for more than half a century. One of the devices that now is becoming a reality is the universal language translator for real-time communication. Such devices are on MIT’s list of breakthrough technologies 2018, and it is Google that is leading the way.

In this spirit a new research has been published with focus interface between humans and technology is becoming more central in modern life. The project is a Lehigh University Cognitive Science Program that collaborated with researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of California, Berkeley where the researchers examined the past 1000 years development of the English language. It was presented in the research paper called “Algorithms in the historical emergence of word senses” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Where the result has the aim of making the machines language processing more human-like.

The research team has identified an algorithm that they called “nearest-neighbour chaining” that is the mechanism that best describes how word senses accumulate over time. The result shows “that word senses emerge in ways that minimize cognitive costs”. Barbara Malt, Director of Lehigh’s Cognitive Science Program, explains in the following way: “When emerging ideas are encoded in English, they are more likely to be encoded via extending the meaning of an existing word than through creation of a new word”. Another member of the research team Yang Xu, a computational linguist from the University of Toronto, continues: “It is an open question how the algorithms we explored here can be directly applied to improving machine understanding of novel language use.”

Google has in this spirit developed Pixel Buds that is wireless earbuds for their smartphone Pixel devices that with Google Assistant can perform a real-time translation. Where one person speaks into the phone and the other has the earbuds and receive the translated message. Although Google translates app already has a feature for real-time translation, it is very sensitive to background noise, a problem that the Pixel Buds to a large extent solve. Baidu is another company that also has come a long way in the development of such devices. In an integrating and interconnecting world the year of 2018 definitely could be the breakthrough year for digital real-time translation devices.

Written by
LarsGoran Bostrom©

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