From Alexa and Siri to translation programs and computer-generated news, anything seems possible these days. The Media Technology Center is searching for applications that could lend a hand with day-to-day editorial work.
Every time you talk to Siri on your phone and ask a question or give a command, you are communicating with artificial intelligence. The only problem is that this intelligence has its limits. In fact, compared to human intelligence, Siri could even be described as fairly stupid, says Ryan Cotterell, a professor who has worked at ETH Zurich since February 2020. Appointed through the ETH media technology initiative as a Professor of Computer Science, Cotterell brings together linguistics, automated language processing and artificial intelligence. “The only reason Siri works is because people typically use very simple questions and commands when they speak to their phone,” he says.
Cotterell insists that we shouldn’t expect the same from AI as we do from human intelligence. None of us have any trouble learning our native language, he says, and English speakers can intuitively spot grammatical mistakes in an English sentence. Yet computer programs still struggle to identify whether an English sentence is grammatically correct or not – and that’s because a language processing program works very differently to the human brain. “No translator has ever had to learn the sheer number of words we need to train a translation program,” he says.
The Swiss German challenge
Modern translation programs learn using big data, honing their abilities with millions of pairs of sentences. Yet coming up with multiple alternatives for translating an individual sentence is a lot harder. Human translators can do it easily, but translation programs typically offer just one solution. Cotterell hopes to change that: “We want users to have multiple options rather than just being presented with one result. That would allow users to choose the best-fit sentence for each specific context.” Yet developing a viable algorithm for this purpose is no easy task, he cautions.
Source: “Giving computers a voice”, Martina Maerki, Zurich ETH News