Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, which owns Facebook, wants to break language barriers across the globe using (AI). Meta announced an ambitious AI driven project, which will be key to building its Metaverse. The company said that it is building a universal speech translator, along with an AI powered virtual assistant.

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In an online presentation Zuckerberg said, “The ability to communicate with anyone in any language — that’s a superpower people have dreamed of forever, and AI is going to deliver that within our lifetimes.”

The company said that building for the metaverse will require major breakthroughs in AI. The first step towards this is by driving inclusion through power of speech and translation.

The company said that Meta AI is announcing a long-term effort to build language and MT tools that will include most of the world’s languages. This includes two new projects. The first is No Language Left Behind, where we are building a new advanced AI model that can learn from languages with fewer examples to train from, “and we will use it to enable expert-quality translations in hundreds of languages, ranging from Asturian to Luganda to Urdu,” said the company.

The second is Universal Speech Translator, where Meta is designing novel approaches to translating from speech in one language to another in real time so it can support languages without a standard writing system as well as those that are both written and spoken.

For people who understand languages like English, Mandarin, or Spanish, it may seem like today’s apps and web tools already provide the translation technology we need. Nearly half the world’s population can’t access online content in their preferred language today. No Language Left Behind is a single system capable of translating between all written languages. “We’re also working on Universal Speech Translator, an AI system that provides instantaneous speech-to-speech translation across all languages, even those that are mostly spoken,” said the company in a blog.

Today’s machine translation (MT) systems are improving rapidly, but they still rely heavily on learning from large amounts of textual data, so they do not generally work well for low-resource languages, i.e., languages that lack training data, and for languages that don’t have a standardized writing system, said the company.

Project CAIRaoke is a new approach to AI that powers chatbots and assistants. With this technology, people could one day have more fluid conversations with their virtual assistants.

Zuckerberg at the event further added, “Five years ago, we could translate across a dozen languages. Three years ago, we were up to 30 languages and this year, we are now aiming for hundreds of languages.”

Though an ambitious project by Meta there were no timelines or milestones mentioned by the company, which makes it that much ambiguous too.

Besides, using AI for breaking the language barrier is not new. Tech firms such as Google, and Apple have been working towards this, and a part of this also gives out translation tools. India, and the Indian government too, has been working on a similar initiative called the National Language Translation Mission (NLTM).

NLTM aims to build Speech to Speech Machine Translation and evolve a Unified Language Interface (ULI) for translation of Indian Languages to bring together multiple efforts towards Indic Language Technologies.

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