Google teaches machines to become fluent translators
Google commits to post-Brexit UK
SAN FRANCISCO: Google is promising that its widely used translation service is now even more fluent, thanks to an advance that’s enabling its computers to interpret complete sentences. That may sound simple, but it took years of engineering to pull off. Until now, Google’s technology analyzed phrases in pieces and then cobbled together a sometimes stilted translation. Now that Google’s machines can interpret entire sentences, the translations of extended passages of text should read and sound much more like a native speaker of the language.
The technology, dubbed “neural machine translation,” is similar to what Google has been using for the past few years to identify people and objects in pictures stored in its Photos service. Google described its neural machine tool as the biggest leap for its translation service in a decade. Forrester Research analyst Mike Gualtieri also believes Google’s new method is a significant breakthrough, although he said he expects it to make some potentially embarrassing mistakes in its early stages, much like the Photos service misidentified some things when it first rolled out.
“I doubt it will be translating like the computers on ‘Star Trek’ quite yet,” Gualtieri said. Starting Tuesday, the technology is being be used to translate phrases to and from English and eight other languages - French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish. Those languages cover about one-third of all the translation requests that Google gets. It says that on average it translates about 140 billion words per day for the more than 500 million people who use the service. Google, part of Alphabet Inc, eventually hopes to apply the neural machine technology on all 103 languages in its translation service.
Vote of confidence
In another development, Google delivered a vote of confidence in London’s future as a technological hub after the Brexit vote on Tuesday by announcing plans for a new building in the King’s Cross area of the city that will house thousands of extra engineers. Google’s Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said computer science had a great future in Britain, citing the talent pool, educational institutions, and passion for innovation present in the country. “That’s why we are investing in London in both engineering talent and infrastructure,” he said. The 10-storey building, Google’s first wholly owned and designed outside the United States, will increase its presence in King’s Cross to more than 1 million square feet, enough for more than 7,000 employees in total, the company said.
Google has 5,700 employees and contractors in the UK, including about 2,000 engineers housed in the recently opened building in King’s Cross where Pichai announced the expansion. Pichai, who became CEO in October 2015 when parent company Alphabet Inc was created, said he was optimistic about Britain’s future, despite the uncertainty caused by June’s vote to leave the European Union. “Historically, the UK has been an open and connected economy, and like a lot of businesses we are proud of and rely on the fact that we recruit the best talent from around world,” he said. “We are optimistic that this situation will continue.”
“We understand there is uncertainty and even concerns about topics like Brexit and the pace of technological change in our times, but we know for certain that web and digital technology will be an engine of growth for the UK for years to come.” British Finance Minister Philip Hammond said the investment showed leading firms were still choosing to invest in Britain, while the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said inflows remain “robust” post-Brexit. “London isn’t just the tech capital of Europe, we are on the shoulder of New York and we are catching up with Silicon Valley,” Khan said at the event. “Investment into the capital post-Brexit remains robust, so Google’s expansion will further strengthen our city’s reputation as a global leader in digital technology.” Pichai made reference in his speech to another event that exposed a division in a western society: the US election. “Recent events, including the election in the US, have clearly surfaced challenges with inequality and people feeling marginalized,” he said. These were “long-term and difficult” problems to solve, he said, but it was his hope that Google would play a constructive role in addressing some of these challenges. The company, along with Facebook, on Monday announced measures aimed at halting the spread of “fake news” on the internet by targeting how some purveyors of phony content make money: advertising.
CALIFORNIA: A man rides a bike past a Google sign at the Googleplex in Menlo Park, California.