Google has a new way of preserve endangered languages: Give cultures the AI tools they need to protect languages themselves. The company launched Woolaroo, an open source photo translation web application (also available through Google Arts & Culture for Android and ios) which uses machine learning and image recognition to help preserve languages from the brink. As a user, you just need to point your phone’s camera at an object for the AI to recognize it and describe it in a certain language, along with the pronunciation.
However, Woolaroo’s real power comes from his open nature. Communities can use the platform to expand vocabulary on their own terms. If you can remember a word that hasn’t been processed yet, you can add it (and its pronunciation) with relatively little hassle. This could be especially important for languages that don’t have unique words to describe modern concepts like phones or computers. You can also edit or delete entries if they are incorrect.
The app initially offers exploration of 10 languages from around the world, including Maori, Yiddish, and native Yugambeh of Australia. We won’t be surprised if this develops quickly, however. UNESCO has determined that “at least” 2,572 of the estimated 6,000 languages in the world face at least some danger. While Woolaroo does not guarantee that the languages will remain active, it could prevent them and their associated histories from falling into obscurity.
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