Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. Communication plays a significant role in our day-to-day lives. Being able to communicate with others effectively brings a sense of understanding and helps us to share ideas. However, there are cases where communication is never effective due to language barriers. There are over 7,100 spoken languages in the world today, meaning that language barriers exist daily, especially in terms of technology. Now thanks to Meta AI, this will no longer be an issue.
Meta AI, an Artificial Intelligence company, founded by Mark Zuckerberg, Yann LeCun, and Rob Fergus, has developed a single AI model known as NLLB (No Languages Left Behind). The first model ever to translate 200 languages including 55 African languages. The project is aimed at improving translation systems on social media platforms powered by Meta such as Facebook and Instagram.
The company first mentioned the project in March, and on the 7th of July 2022, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company had made a breakthrough with the model.
This model was created to eliminate language barriers in the world of technology. In a YouTube video posted by the company, Necip Fazil Ayan, a research director, said, “The idea is to get rid of language barriers altogether, for everyone to understand your experience without you changing how you communicate or talk.”
Language plays an essential role in our daily lives. It is a form of self-expression, and it also helps to preserve culture. There are many languages in the world today, and being able to translate these languages effectively helps in terms of communication and other aspects. Imagine a world where your native language is included on social media platforms. You can share stories, ideas, and recipes and discuss essential topics in your language that other people understand.
More people will be encouraged to join social media platforms to be able to connect with other people. Their involvement in sharing stories will educate and inspire the younger generation as well. In the past, it was easy for people to learn their native language from their parents and grandparents, especially in person. Today, however, it has become a challenge. People either live far away due to school or work, it could also be because of busy schedules.
Now thanks to this model this will no longer be an issue. Individuals will get the opportunity to learn about their past and their language from their community members as well as their family members.
There are so many issues that affect different parts of the world. Communicating in our own languages and understanding other people’s languages will contribute to finding sustainable solutions to different problems. The inclusivity will also help prevent misinterpretation, harassment and hate speech. Thus, making social media platforms calm and safe environments to interact with your favourite people worldwide.
The model was first created with a critical focus on the African languages. “Africa is a continent with very high linguistic diversity, and language barriers exist day to day. We are pleased to announce that 55 African languages will be included in this machine translation research, making it a major breakthrough for our continent,” Balkissa Ide Siddo, Public Policy Director for Africa said while speaking about the launch of the AI model.
Meta worked with professional translators of each language to develop a benchmark that would automatically assess translation quality for many languages.
They also worked with the people who speak the languages natively to evaluate what the AI model had produced to ensure effective results. Additionally, to ensure that the results are high quality, Meta created a dataset called FLORES-200 and used it to measure NLLB’S performance in every language. The results confirmed that the NLLB exceeds other state-of-the-art models by 44%.
Apart from using the model on social media platforms, the company has partnered with the Wikimedia Foundation to help improve the translation system. The foundation is a non-profit that hosts Wikipedia and other projects.
Most of us depend on Wikipedia to be able to access articles, biographies and other important content. Did you know that there are versions of Wikipedia in more than 300 languages, but most of them have fewer articles than the 6 million available in English?
This is where the model comes in. The NLLB research is applied to translation systems used by editors on Wikipedia. Articles will now be easily translated into more languages. The partnership also aims to ensure that more women are included on Wikipedia.
In a blog post, Meta AI research scientist Angela Fan points out that only 20% of women are recognized in the English language biographies on Wikipedia. Additionally, the percentage of women in Africa, Asia or those in science is even less. The end goal is for future generations to be able to know about all the people, especially women who made a difference through their achievements and stories.
Meta has been on a roll in projects for the past few years. Their previous project that was also part of creating an inclusive environment was Instagram Lite. In 2021, they advanced the app to make it available in three East African languages- Amharic, Swahili and Oromo. This expansion of languages attracted a wider audience and allowed more people to benefit from the app in their preferred language.
Meta has continued to grow over the years by ensuring that everyone is included when it comes to its services. The release of Instagram lite also enabled people in more than 170 countries to experience the app in high quality despite their network coverage.
The aim was to ensure that regardless of what network one was using, they could enjoy the app. This came after the release of Facebook lite in 2015, which was also developed to serve the same purpose as Instagram lite.
The NLLB can be applied today on different platforms powered by Meta. However, this idea was mainly meant to be a part of Meta’s big bet for the future. The company’s vision is to ensure that many people can access economic, social, and educational opportunities that the next evolution of the internet will bring to future technology and an everyday living experience tomorrow.
Meta continues to advance its products and services to cater for different people worldwide. This initiative ensures that people get the best experiences and never feel left out even as technology changes. The model will also be a part of the company’s future projects, especially those involving their applications.
The best part about this project is that you can access a demo of the No Language Left Behind to see how the model translates stories from different parts of the world.