【媒庫文選】語言要死亡嗎?
2019年09月25日14:21

原標題:【媒庫文選】語言要死亡嗎?

The Death of Language? 語言要死亡嗎?

James Cook Hasan Chowdhury 詹姆斯·庫克 哈桑·喬杜里

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?”

把南非語翻成高棉語?沒問題。從匈牙利語譯為旁遮普語?小菜一碟。

使語言不同的人彼此間即時交流的新技術曾經純屬科幻,現在已是現實,並且勢將改變世界。

至少這是專家們作出的大膽斷言,其背景是基於複雜人工智能和機器學習的翻譯技術取得了突飛猛進的進步。

英國斯特林大學翻譯研究中心的教授李賽紅博士說,最終這種技術可能會先進到人們甚至都感受不到正在進行翻譯的程度。

隨著實時翻譯精度的提高,這項技術的成本也已經大幅下降。例如,Google出售標價160英鎊(1英鎊約合8.84元人民幣——本網注)的Pixel Bud耳機,用戶按下按鈕後就能立即翻譯。

韋弗利實驗室也開發出類似的技術,借助一隻200英鎊的耳機,操不同語言的兩個人就能聽懂彼此。

與此同時,亞馬遜和微軟都有自己的翻譯引擎,可將文本轉換為某一門外語。

iTranslate和Translate Voice等應用程序也使任何人都可擁有一款功能強大的人工智能翻譯工具,而成本近乎於零。

但這一切對未來的語言意味著什麼?它的負面影響是什麼?

李賽紅說,我們可能不必再出於需要而學習語言了。

她說:“我認為機器無法完全取代人類,但沒人能掌握所有語言,對於那些掌握不了的語言,我們可以使用技術。”

“遺憾的是,學習語言的人越來越少……學習第二語言對於人類來說(將變成)一種自娛自樂的東西。”

雖然學習語言的人越來越少,但對翻譯服務的需求只會增加。

根據新南威爾士大學最近的一份報告,說英語的人仍然在互聯網上占主導地位——但只是勉強占多數。他們占網民總數的28%,緊隨其後的是說漢語的人占23%,說西班牙語的人占8%。

然而,對於網民可以獲得的在線內容,英語則一馬當先,占56%,然後急劇減少到俄語和德語各占6%、日語和西班牙語各占5%,中文則為3%。

這些數字之間的差異表明,翻譯工具正在成為數字時代一種必不可少的工具。提高機器翻譯的質量對技術公司來說是一門大生意。

儘管翻譯技術有著很好的應用前景,但仍存在一些重大問題。例如,2018年,臉書網站因誤譯印尼網友的評論而被迫道歉。當時,網友說希望大家能在一場致命的地震中倖免,但臉書翻譯成網友說的是“祝賀”並在評論旁展示彩色的動畫氣球和彩紙屑。

無論人工智能可能帶來什麼樣的商業優勢,學習語言帶來的那種簡單的快樂或許意味著,它始終是人們長年樂此不疲的活動。

對於“多鄰國”語言學習平台英國業務主管科林·沃特金斯而言,在應用程序上學習語言的做法證明了一種觀點,即由於能夠與人直接交流的體驗“發自肺腑”,所以人們仍會想方設法學習語言。

他說:“人工智能並不能理解語言的細微差異、風格甚至地域特點。你如何來衡量語言中的情感呢?”

(塗頎譯自英國《每日電訊報》網站8月29日文章)

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