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USC researchers harness AI to translate Bible into rare languages

The challenge to translate the Bible into rare languages has posed difficulties for translators for years. To tackle this issue, two scientists from the USC Information Sciences Institute, Joel Mathew and Ulf Hermjakob, have turned to advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and have recently launched an AI-powered technology, which they named the Greek Room. It is designed to streamline the complex process of biblical translation. Mathew and Hermjakob have utilized their expertise in Bible translation and natural language processing respectively, to develop the technology with the objective of reaching “very low-resource languages that are not even in the top 500.” The Greek Room incorporates three main tools: spell-checking, world alignment for translation consistency, and Wildebeest, a tool to identify incorrect characters in a script. Their ultimate goal is to ensure that the Bible becomes accessible to speakers of all languages.

Church Leaders reports:

(RNS) — Out of the 7,100 languages that exist, the Bible has been translated into more than 700, making it the most-translated book in the world. Yet, those remaining languages — many of them extremely rare — have vexed Bible translators for decades. Two scientists are looking to new advancements in artificial intelligence to help close the gap.

“We want to reach all the languages on earth; the goal is to reach everyone,” said Joel Mathew, a research engineer who alongside Ulf Hermjakob recently launched the Greek Room, an AI-powered technology to help streamline the highly technical process of biblical translation.

Combining Hermjakob’s long experience with natural language processing technologies and Mathew’s field knowledge of Bible translation, the two USC Information Sciences Institute researchers developed the technology with an aim to target “very low-resource languages that are not even in the top 500,” said Mathew.

The Greek Room includes three main tools: spell-checking, world alignment that ensures consistency in translation, and Wildebeest, used to detect improper characters in a script.

The two scientists met in 2015 when Mathew joined USC to complete a master’s degree in computer science. There, he met Hermjakob in the AI division of the Information Sciences Institute. They bonded over a shared passion for languages and their Christian faith.

Mathew, the son of two Bible translators, has observed firsthand the difficulties that come with manual translation by local church members. In his hometown, New Delhi, he took notes of all the tasks that technology could accomplish.

Read the full article here.

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