What the metaverse needs is a small bright yellow fish that can be placed in someone’s ear in order for them to be able to hear any language translated into their first language. The Babelfish from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (via Genesis 11:1-9) is what Meta is working on to fulfil Mark Zuckerberg’s (god-like) vision of social virtual reality and the metaversian concept of an internet without borders.
Zuckerberg revealed that Meta is working on building an AI-powered “universal speech translator” that will work for everyone in the digital world. This project aims at streamlining the interactions of users who speak different languages in the digital universe with the help of AI.
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“The goal here is instantaneous speech-to-speech translation across all languages, even those that are mostly spoken; the ability to communicate with anyone in any language,” Zuckerberg said during Meta’s “Building for the metaverse with AI” presentation. “That’s a superpower that people dreamed of forever and AI is going to deliver that within our lifetimes.”
WATCH THE VIRTUAL EVENT HERE: Building for the metaverse with AI (Meta AI)
According to Meta, 20% of the world’s population does not speak languages covered by current translation tools. For the other under-represented languages, they’ll be difficult for AI tools to learn since there aren’t enough written scripts for the machine learning algorithms.
The universal language translator plan Meta is working to instill will be executed in two parts. First, they’re developing a “No Language Left Behind” program — a translation system capable of learning every spoken language, even if there isn’t much text available to learn from.
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“We are creating a single model that can translate hundreds of languages with state-of-the-art results and most of the language pairs, everything from Austrian to Uganda to Urdu,” Zuckerberg said during the live stream.
Meta then aims to create an AI Babelfish, a universal speech translator that aims to build systems that directly translate speech in real-time from one language to another without the need for an intermediary written component.
“However, data scarcity is the greatest obstacle for Meta when it comes to translation tools,” CNBC TV18 notes. “The current systems for text translations rely on learning from millions of sentences of annotated data. Therefore, only a handful of languages that dominate the web are available for translation. Expanding to other languages creates a need to find ways to acquire and use training examples from languages with a sparse web presence.”
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With these projects, Meta aims to improve translations so that people who speak different or even lesser-known languages can socialize in Metaverse.
Petr Malyukov, a serial IT entrepreneur and CEO/cofounder of YOUS, believes AI translation could help save language diversity, he tells VentureBeat.
“It motivates people to keep preserving their native languages because it no longer will be a barrier for international communications,” he writes. “In the future, there will be no need to learn a foreign language to be a part of the international community.
“It takes a lot of work before we get there, of course. Meta’s universal speech translator has to learn hundreds of languages and achieve the ability to translate from one to another in real-time.
“The engineers standing behind the project need to find training data, which is not easy to get for many languages that are not popular on the internet. It’s a complex and highly ambitious project, but it has enormous potential to bring a lot of good to the world.”