Meta launches an AI translator

For anyone who tries to get by with only speaking English on vacation, Meta has introduced new technology that could help you keep the ball rolling.  

Driving the news: The company has launched an AI-powered translation tool that lets users communicate—through both text and speech—in nearly 100 languages. Over time, these tools will be introduced across all Meta platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp.

  • Amazon, Microsoft, and OpenAI have all developed similar tools, while Google is building a model that can understand the world’s 1,000 most-spoken languages. 

Why it matters: Translation tools can help travellers transcend language barriers when visiting new places, from asking Tokyo locals for directions to explaining your gluten 'intolerance' to a waiter in Rome, all without having to achieve Duolingo proficiency.  

Yes, but: Though impressive, the new generation of translation tools are far from perfect. New studies point to different forms of bias that tend to come through, from deferring to the masculine form of words to often incorrectly transcribing audio from non-white users. 

  • These tools also pick up words, not meanings. An example from The Economist translates a request for a gluten-free meal to saying someone is “without gluten.”’ 

Bottom line: With improved translation tools, humans could miss out on the novelty of learning a new language to immerse themselves in a country's culture. Showing the waiter your phone to ask about the daily special just doesn’t feel the same.—LA