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Dead Languages Come to Life

By Gary Anthes

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 63 No. 4, Pages 13-15
10.1145/3381908

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Driven by advanced techniques in machine learning, commercial systems for automated language translation now nearly match the performance of human linguists, and far more efficiently. Google Translate supports 105 languages, from Afrikaans to Zulu, and in addition to printed text it can translate speech, handwriting, and the text found on websites and in images.

The methods for doing those things are clever, but the key enabler lies in the huge annotated databases of writings in the various language pairs. A translation from French to English succeeds because the algorithms were trained on millions of actual translation examples. The expectation is that every word or phrase that comes into the system, with its associated rules and patterns of language structure, will have been seen and translated before.

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