As 2016 is coming to its end I cannot but reflect on the advancements that this year brought us in a technological field that is around for decades without making a significant impact: Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Since the very beginning of the electronic era in the 40’s, the foundations of AI were set by great scientists as Turing (and others of course). We can say that the expectations for the advancement in the field of AI were then far more optimistic compared to what reality proved to be. During the last 2-3 years, though, we are watching a coming back of the legend, this time with real and tangible results: IBM’s Watson AI program is cooperating with researchers for cancer, Google translates with AI use, Facebook is making extensive use of AI for its users, Amazon for its clients, many games are already benefiting by AI use and even there are many startups in the field of education and especially adaptive learning. Let us not forget the creation of www.openai.com and www.partnershiponai.org , two organizations for studying the impact of AI on the human society- all the above during 2016.
Things are interesting to say the least; they are serious too. AI is what you can call a disruptive technology. It has the potential to bring everything upside down. How we work, how we learn, how we entertain, how we understand our world. It seems to me that technology is ready to change the world once more. Still struggling to adapt to computers, to the networks and to smartphones, all of a sudden we are called to go for a new round of new things. Can humanity really adapt to such an accelerated rhythm of change? It remains to be seen…
An interesting article in Economist here https://goo.gl/L16Tgd and a magnificent lecture by Michel Serres here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCBB0QEmT5g
Machine translation is improving, no doubt. But with the rise of AI, neural networks, machine learning, corpus linguistics and a number of other supporting fields we can see a real difference. I just wanted to note the improvement regarding the translation to and from English/German; a real advancement! For years I have been experimenting with the pair English/Spanish where the results were more than satisfactory. At the same time English/German did not seem to get much attention from Google translate. But now, after the announcement of Google in September that they were changing their algorithm I have noticed the difference. Their “Neural Machine Translation” system works now in eight pairs of languages that represent the languages of 35% of the global population; impressive isn’t it? The system is also reported to have achieved translation between languages not previously known to the system something which means a much more profound understanding of the human language! Impressive isn’t it!
Taking the above as fact, I believe that education has to lean over these changes and start a real discussion on language teaching especially foreign language teaching and learning. Is the methodology changing or is foreign language learning just not needed? Are the teachers of languages losing their jobs or do they have a new role in the learning process? Many such questions emerge and given the speed of change in the technological sector we have to consider these questions the sooner.
Read more about Google Translate at https://blog.google/products/translate/