Facebook’s parent company, Meta, has announced the launch of “No Language Left Behind” (NLLB)an AI program that will make digital content more accessible in 55 African languages spoken by more than half of the continent’s internet users.
Meta claims that this technology will provide state-of-the-art translations between more than 200 languages worldwide – more than double the current number.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the new software “will enable over 25 billion daily translations across our apps”, bringing content from Facebook, Instagram and Wikipedia to millions of people in their native language for the first time.
“In the future, imagine visiting your favorite Facebook group, finding posts on Igbo or Luganda, and being able to understand them in your own language with the click of a button,” said Balkissa Ide Siddo, Facebook’s director of public policy for Africa, at the opening of the NLLB.
Going forward, Siddo said that “accurate translations into more languages could also help find harmful content and misinformation, protect election integrity, and curb examples of online sexual exploitation and human trafficking”.
In addition, Meta says that it aims to set a “new inclusion standard” as it helps build metaversegives the prospect that everyone has “access to cyber content, devices and experiences, with the ability to communicate with anyone, in any language” there.
Improvements for “low resource” languages
Language barriers prevent many Africans from accessing or producing their own digital content – while 130 million, 115 million and 35 million Africans speak English, French and Portuguese respectively, those who only speak “low resource” languages cannot use social media to expand business to new markets.
The Meta Report defines a “low resource” language as one that results in negligible amounts of content being published on the internet. Of the 55 African languages surveyed, only seven passed this categorization: Afrikaans, Modern Standard Arabic, Sotho, Swahili, Xhosa, Tswana, and Zulu.
Widely spoken languages such as Yoruba (45m), Igbo (30m) and Fula (35m) are defined as “low resource”, resulting in poor accuracy scores in existing automated translations.
Facebook increases Africa reach
Meta, formerly Facebook, has long had a close relationship with launching internet services in Africa. Its Free Basics app, launched in 2013 as Internet.org, brings basic internet services to mobile users in a simplified and highly accessible format, and now offers 100 million users worldwide, many of them in Africa.
Language barriers increase the gap between urban and rural internet penetration in sub-Saharan Africa. In West Africa, where 38.1% of urban residents have access to mobile broadband but only 7.1% in rural areas is connectedthe prevalence of traditional languages outside of urban centers means that rural residents are less likely to engage with digital content even though they can be connected to the internet.
Meta’s new AI model brings translated content to millions of African speakers
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