How Technology Can Foster Multilingualism And How Can It Not – Global Issues


Credit: Image / Manuel Elias
  • Opinion Written by Ian Richards and Muhammad Shiraz Bali (Geneva)
  • Inter Press service

The United Nations declared her an innovation champion, and Elle put her on its cover and Saudi Arabia granted her her nationality, a “raw” robot trick.

Many admired her human qualities. However, its ability to follow glances and respond to questions obscures the human input required to provide a realistic experience and one eloquent step. Those who met her reported ( to submit questions in advance.

And while Sophia has certainly sparked an important debate about the future of AI, its makers have admitted too, after much criticism ( That people were quick to overestimate their technological capacity. Behind this wishful thinking was an airline customer service chatbot more than a human.

However, while Sophia appears to have disappeared from public view, possibly as a result of Covid-19 (which also appears to have diminished our faith in airline customer service chatbots), digital diplomacy, as we discovered during this year’s International Mother Language Day, it’s not. Immune to technological surge.

Next month, the United Nations will test a new hypothetical translation system at the 14th Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice to be held in Kyoto. Several delegates will travel there, but the UN interpreters in Vienna and New York, who would normally join the conference, will stay home instead.

Working early in the morning and late in the night they will translate meeting negotiations into the six UN languages ​​online. Think of it as in a Teams meeting or Zoom. Not only do you have to try to understand and understand exactly what is being said, but you also need to interpret it into another language and bring it back to the same line.

The biggest challenge won’t be “you are muting”, but the poor sound quality.

The experience gained from using the system during shutdown, when there was no other option, showed how poor voice quality and failed connections made work more difficult, as interpreters needed a higher quality sound than the average listener to do their job properly.

The interpreters reported severe acoustic shock, tinnitus, headache, and nausea. The reason for the poor sound quality is because the platforms currently on the market compress the audio to push languages ​​back and forth at the same time. None of the systems are ISO compliant.

The United Nations is not alone with these problems.

article ( In the Canadian Parliament, which operates in both English and French, indicated that “dealing with inadequate voice quality, occasional comment loops, new technology and MPs who speak too quickly has led to a sharp increase in interpreters reporting workplace injuries” .

Assumptions about technology forces also influenced UN translators. After introducing a new computer-aided translation tool, they were asked to increase their daily productivity goal from 5 pages of often heavy technical text to 5.8.

The program is promoted as Google Translate on steroids. But a recent survey of its users showed that this view is far from shared.

While acknowledging its benefits, eighty percent of translators said they would not be able to meet new productivity targets while maintaining minimum quality standards. One said that the program “was often slow and time-consuming, not time-saving, and its role was wildly overrated.”

Another commented that rewriting bad machine translations takes more time than translating from scratch. Many noted that computer-assisted translations could not compensate for the general decline in the quality of the original texts the translators had received.

This year’s International Mother Language Day is dedicated to multilingualism.

But two years ago, the United Nations General Assembly rightly noted that “multilingualism promotes unity in diversity, international understanding, tolerance and dialogue,” and recognized its contribution to “strengthening international peace and security.”

Technology plays an important role in enhancing communication between language groups, and it has already made an important difference. But as with Sophia, this year we need to be fully aware of what she can do as much as she cannot do.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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