How Google Translate learned homonyms


Outside of SGE, if you enter one of these kinds of words without context into Translate in a web browser or say one of them out loud when using the Translate app, for instance, the algorithm will assess all of the potential results, then give you options to clarify what you mean. For example, Translate options for the word “bat” include the animal, the equipment and the action.

If you’ve written or said an entire phrase that includes a homonym, the algorithm will analyze the phrase in context, leading it to a more accurate representation of how you’re using the homonym than if it were simply relying on statistics.

“We’ve also done a lot of work on curating data,” Macduff says. Google partners with dictionary providers and third-party translators who gather words and phrases in different languages, and the team studies public databases to better understand how to build new features in Translate. “We also trained a language model to recognize the difference between high-quality translations and low-quality translations,” Macduff says. The “contribute” option also gives Google Translate users the chance to help with translations or offer corrections.

Translate will get better and better at handling homonyms and other translations that require context over time, and the team thinks it’s important to stay nimble in order to do so. “AI is evolving, and computer power is evolving, but language is evolving, too,” Apu says. Words take on new meanings and usages all the time — take “slay” or “cancel.” The work keeps the team on their toes, but their core goal remains the same.

“Our vision for the future is to enable very fluid interactions for people,” says Apu. “We want to take away all the barriers for communication that we can, so everyone can just talk to another person, no matter what language they speak.” Or what kind of bass they’re talking about.



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