How AI is accelerating Bible translation

By John Tan  |  Wycliffe Today  Spring Edition 2020  |

There is an area of computer software design called Artificial Intelligence (AI) where data is fed into a program and it ‘thinks’ for itself. Most of us use AI in our everyday lives through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) without thinking too much about it.

Photo by Edho Prathama

We use AI for:

  • running virtual assistants, including Siri, Hey Google, Cortana and Alexa
  • search engines such as Google Search and Bing
  • navigation and maps, like Google Maps, Bing Maps or Waze
  • drawing patterns, trends and statistics from data and creating graphs in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets
  • automated translations through tools like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator, Facebook and IBM Watson
  • chatbots (automated assistance programs) that help us with conversations, store purchases and technical support inquiries. This includes the predictive texts when we write messages in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, email and SMS messages

Wycliffe’s partners in SIL and the Deaf Bible Society employ AI in helping people everywhere engage with the translated Scriptures. In addition to the everyday uses listed above, SIL and Deaf Bible Society use AI to:

    • store audio recordings, words and patterns in grammar on computing devices. SIL’s linguists use AI to learn languages more quickly and complete Bible translations at a faster pace
    • teach people how to read and write using text-to-speech software.  Some people learn their alphabet by looking at words and hearing what they sound like. Many people learn the Bible audibly
    • create video-based sign languages. Translations are not limited to just speech and text; they are also in the realm of video
    • The Bible is already indexed by books, chapters and verses. The complete Bible is available in 704 languages. This makes it an ideal resource of data for AI software programmers and linguists who are working for companies like Google, IBM, Microsoft and DuoLingo. Imagine being paid by one of these giants to read the Bible!

Many AI projects like these look for monetary profits but missional AI pushes beyond this boundary. SIL and the Deaf Bible Society want to see individuals and communities using the languages they value most to engage with God’s Word.


Main photo: Pixabay

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