It should not surprise you that more than 1.5 billion people use Facebook. Though developed in English only half of these users are English language users. Imagine the divide within the so-called social media wherein people speaking other languages, effectively cut off from the English speakers and, more often than not from each other. Would one not call this most popular social media of being rather asocial!
Fortunately that has changed. If you stumble onto a Facebook post in a foreign language, Facebook lets you instantly translate it—in a semi-effective way. Now millions of people have the option of instantly translating their own posts into any one of 44 other languages. Thus the post will automatically show up in your News Feed in your native tongue. For the first time across the social network’s general population, Facebook has launched its “multilingual composer,” and though the initial test is limited, the aim is to be able to communicate effectively with anyone across the globe.
Businesses, government and celebrities had access to this multilingual composer through Facebook’s Pages service. Every day, more than 5,000 businesses and celebs publish nearly 10,000 posts in multiple languages. These are viewed roughly around 70 million times a day, and every third view is in a foreign language. For example, international footballers like Ronaldinho, a Brazilian star who uses composer to post not only in Portuguese, but Spanish and English and the same post will reflect in the News Feed in their native or communication language. Now with the powerful and insightful “multilingual composer,” millions of others can post in the same way.
The composer is designed specifically for people with a multilingual audience. It lets them edit the machine’s translation or even provide their own. But the ultimate goal is to automate the entire process, for everyone.
Machine translation is not perfect, but it’s surely improving. Today, Facebook will automatically translate among 45 languages, and it handles this task largely with traditional algorithmic models that rely on language statistics (essentially how often words and phrases appear in natural language). However while translating from English to any other language, the method is to derive meanings, phrases and words from the deep neural networks—networks of hardware and software inspired by the web of neurons in the brain, which is far more accurate that the algorithmic models. Thus posts when translated from native English to any other language are better as opposed to other way round.
In recent years, deep neural nets have proven enormously adept and smart at learning certain tasks—like recognizing faces in photos or identifying spoken words—by analyzing vast amounts digital data that can be called specifically within micro seconds. Efforts are being made in direction of improving machine translation and natural language understanding, where a machine truly grasps the meaning and connotation of the words and sentences it translates. The plan is to push this evolving technology across Facebook’s entire machine translation engine so that translation across languages is effective and accurate.
Undoubtedly, neural nets are still a long way from mastering machine translation, and in tandem with other technologies. But many users, researchers and scientists see this as a path toward that goal.
Neural nets thrive on more and better data. And Facebook’s multilingual composer plays a vital role here as well. Because people can edit translation and add their own, it generates additional data along with the algorithmic ones. Thus Facebook is truly breaking language barriers for a better-connected multilingual world!