【媒库文选】语言要死亡吗?

2019-09-25 14:21   参考消息网  

The Death of Language? 语言要死亡吗?

James Cook Hasan Chowdhury 詹姆斯·库克 哈桑·乔杜里

Afrikaans into Khmer? No problem. Hungarian into Punjabi? Easy peasy.

Once the realm of pure science fiction,new technology that allows people to communicate instantly with each other using different languages is now a reality - and it's poised to change the world.

That at least is the bold claim made by experts amid rapid advances in translation technology - based on sophisticated artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Eventually, it could become so advanced that people won't even know translation is taking place, says Dr Saihong Li, professor of translation studies at the University of Stirling.

As the accuracy of real-time translation improves,so the cost of this technology has fallen sharply. Google, for instance, offers £160 Pixel Buds headphones that allows users to translate languages instantaneously at the press of a button.

Similar technology has been developed by Waverly Labs to let two people who speak different languages understand each other using a £200 earpiece.

Meanwhile, Amazon and Microsoft both have their own translation engines which can be used to convert text to a foreign language.

Apps like iTranslate and Translate Voice also allow anyone to have a powerful AI translation tool in their pocket, often for little to no cost.

But what does this all mean for the future languages? And what are the negative implications?

Li claims we may no longer need to learn languages out of necessity.

“I don't think the machines will completely replace humans but nobody can learn all languages and for those languages we can use technology,” she says.

“It's a pity that fewer people are learning languages... second language learning for human beings[will be] self-satisfaction.”

While fewer people may learn languages, the need for translation services is only set to increase.

According to a recent report from the University of New South Wales, English-speakers still dominate the Internet - but only just. They comprise 28pc of Internet users, followed by Chinese speakers who make up 23pc and Spanish speakers at 8pc.

However, when it comes to the online content available to these users, English leads at 56pc, with a plunge to Russian and German (both 6pc), Japanese and Spanish (5pc), and Chinese at 3pc.

The discrepancy between these figures show just how much translation tools are becoming an essential tool for the digital age. Improving the quality of machine translations is big business for technology companies.

But for all its promising applications, translation technology still has some major issues. In 2018, for instance, Facebook was forced to apologise after it mistakenly translated Indonesian comments where users said they hope people survive a fatal earthquake as people saying “congratulations,” and then displayed colourful animated balloons and confetti around the comments.

Whatever business advantages may be presented by AI, the simple pleasure of learning languages may mean it remains a perennial activity for people.

For Colin Watkins, head of Duolingo's UK operations, the uptake of languages on the app-based learning service has been a testament to the idea that people will still seek ways to learn languages because of the “visceral” experience of being able to communicate with people directly.

“AI is not in that position where it can understand nuance and tone and even regional peculiarities,”he says. “How do you measure sentiment in language?”

把南非语翻成高棉语?没问题。从匈牙利语译为旁遮普语?小菜一碟。

使语言不同的人彼此间即时交流的新技术曾经纯属科幻,现在已是现实,并且势将改变世界。

至少这是专家们作出的大胆断言,其背景是基于复杂人工智能和机器学习的翻译技术取得了突飞猛进的进步。

英国斯特林大学翻译研究中心的教授李赛红博士说,最终这种技术可能会先进到人们甚至都感受不到正在进行翻译的程度。

随着实时翻译精度的提高,这项技术的成本也已经大幅下降。例如,谷歌出售标价160英镑(1英镑约合8.84元人民币——本网注)的Pixel Bud耳机,用户按下按钮后就能立即翻译。

韦弗利实验室也开发出类似的技术,借助一只200英镑的耳机,操不同语言的两个人就能听懂彼此。

与此同时,亚马逊和微软都有自己的翻译引擎,可将文本转换为某一门外语。

iTranslate和Translate Voice等应用程序也使任何人都可拥有一款功能强大的人工智能翻译工具,而成本近乎于零。

但这一切对未来的语言意味着什么?它的负面影响是什么?

李赛红说,我们可能不必再出于需要而学习语言了。

她说:“我认为机器无法完全取代人类,但没人能掌握所有语言,对于那些掌握不了的语言,我们可以使用技术。”

“遗憾的是,学习语言的人越来越少……学习第二语言对于人类来说(将变成)一种自娱自乐的东西。”

虽然学习语言的人越来越少,但对翻译服务的需求只会增加。

根据新南威尔士大学最近的一份报告,说英语的人仍然在互联网上占主导地位——但只是勉强占多数。他们占网民总数的28%,紧随其后的是说汉语的人占23%,说西班牙语的人占8%。

然而,对于网民可以获得的在线内容,英语则一马当先,占56%,然后急剧减少到俄语和德语各占6%、日语和西班牙语各占5%,中文则为3%。

这些数字之间的差异表明,翻译工具正在成为数字时代一种必不可少的工具。提高机器翻译的质量对技术公司来说是一门大生意。

尽管翻译技术有着很好的应用前景,但仍存在一些重大问题。例如,2018年,脸书网站因误译印尼网友的评论而被迫道歉。当时,网友说希望大家能在一场致命的地震中幸免,但脸书翻译成网友说的是“祝贺”并在评论旁展示彩色的动画气球和彩纸屑。

无论人工智能可能带来什么样的商业优势,学习语言带来的那种简单的快乐或许意味着,它始终是人们长年乐此不疲的活动。

对于“多邻国”语言学习平台英国业务主管科林·沃特金斯而言,在应用程序上学习语言的做法证明了一种观点,即由于能够与人直接交流的体验“发自肺腑”,所以人们仍会想方设法学习语言。

他说:“人工智能并不能理解语言的细微差异、风格甚至地域特点。你如何来衡量语言中的情感呢?”

(涂颀译自英国《每日电讯报》网站8月29日文章)

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