philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


Facebook’s New AI Could Lead to Translations That Actually Make Sense

FB-Translation-TA-603192409This morning, the company’s central artificial-intelligence lab released a paper describing a new technology that could accelerate the evolution of machine translation not only inside Facebook but across the internet. According to Facebook’s tests, its technique—borrowed from image recognition—produces better translations than the current state of the art, and it does so far more efficiently than other methods, which could eventually lead to even sharper translations.

Christopher Manning, a Stanford University professor who specialized in machine translation and has reviewed the paper, calls it an “impressive achievement,” particularly because it can train translation models more quickly than existing systems. And Facebook indicates that its engineers are now rolling this technique onto the company’s social network, which serves more than 1.8 billion people across the globe.

Facebook’s approach relies on neural networks, complex mathematical systems that can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data.

But Facebook is taking a slightly different tack from most of the other big players. It’s using what are called convolutional neural networks, a technique invented by the venerable deep-learning researcher Yann LeCun, who now oversees Facebook’s AI lab. Rather than analyze a sentence sequentially, one piece at a time, a convolutional neural network can analyze many different pieces at once, before organizing those pieces into a logical hierarchy.

Like Google before it, Facebook is not only publishing a paper describing its new system but open-sourcing the software engine that drives the system, freely sharing the code with the world at large. It’s even sharing models it has already trained on its own data. This is part of a larger effort across the internet’s biggest companies to freely share their AI research. It means that translation will evolve far more quickly across the internet—not just on Facebook.

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