Out of the 7,000 languages in the world, 3000 are endangered. According to UNESCO, an endangered language becomes extinct every fourteen days. Language is an integral part of a culture. In more than one way, the death of a language is equivalent to the death of a culture.
Google Arts & Culture has decided to apply Google’s technology to preserve endangered languages. To that end, the not-for-profit online platform has created an artificial intelligence-based open-source application, Woolaroo.
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Woolaroo is an interactive and educational tool to help promote endangered languages. Google believes language learning can be greatly enhanced by engagement. The same thinking is behind the creation of the Woolaroo platform. Google wants to preserve and bring the world’s endangered languages online and accessible to anyone, anywhere.
Woolaroo allows the use of a phone’s camera to discover translations for objects around you. The application runs the word for the object in its database and presents its native word with pronunciation. The platform uses the powerful Google cloud vision API to analyse, classify and detect objects in the images. The process is similar to the identification process by the visual cortex of living organisms. Google has remodelled the architecture of the mammalian visual cortex as a model for neural networks to perform image recognition. The open-source platform means that any user can contribute to the Woolaroo library.
Currently available in 10 languages, the platform has covered a language with only one surviving speaker like Yugambeh, an aboriginal language spoken in South Queensland. Languages like Nawat with less than 500 speakers are also accessible. The application is available in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Italian.
While developing the Woolaroo platform, Google collaborated with linguistic experts of these ten languages. For example, Google partnered with the team behind Ti Liv Kreyol to create a database for Lousiana Creole.
Saving languages is a race against time, and artificial intelligence can play a critical role. The speakers of indigenous languages are turning to technology to preserve their language and, in turn, their culture.
Google Woolaroo applies artificial intelligence in language documentation to promote engagement-based learning. AI can quickly process any amount of information necessary to find the native word of an object. It can also identify patterns in data. Woolaroo can bridge the gap between the future and the past by being a translator.
Besides being the “The Louvre of endangered languages”, Woolaroo has the potential to become a stepping stone towards developing an AI language recreation engine with a global archive of all languages which can be used to teach any language to a prospective student. Though artificial intelligence cannot understand or replicate the cultural context in which languages were founded and evolved in the past, it can work as a museum of language side-by-side with humans to preserve and keep endangered languages alive.
The programme can preserve endangered languages by creating a database online and educating people about them. For example, languages like Latin and Ancient Greek are now dead. Though these two languages have lost all their native speakers, the language still lives on, and we know a lot about their culture.