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Did You Know Two Nigerian AI Engineers Built The First World’s First Pidgin-To-English Translation Model?

Every day individuals go about their daily activities in the bid to make things easier and this is the core of what software engineers do – try to make the world a better place for people to carry out their activities seamlessly. One of the ways these engineers do this is through artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Read more about Artificial Intelligence

Artificial learning (AI) is the development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks that would usually require human intelligence such as speech recognition, visual perception, decision making, problem-solving, learning, planning and translation between languages. These machines are simulated with the human intelligence process, hence, they think and work like humans. Over the years, we have seen the tremendous application of artificial intelligence in our day-to-day activities such as in the health sector, transport systems, social media, sales and marketing amongst others.

Recently, two of Nigeria’s artificial intelligence (AI) engineers at InstaDeep, Orevaoghene Ahia and Kelechi Ogueji designed a model that translates Nigerian Pidgin to English language. The Nigerian pidgin is also called Nigerian Creole, a Nigerian language that was developed from simplifying and mixing different languages together. The Nigerian Pidgin is spoken across West Africa and Central Africa, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

Faced by the problem of most technologies built only available for high resource language speakers like English, French, Chinese etc., Ahia and her colleague, Ogueji successfully developed a model for the Pidgin-English translation. The research addressed the following problems:

  • Provision of a Pidgin corpus and training of Pidgin Word Vectors: the corpus is a collection of sentence pairs for both languages.
  • Cross-lingual embedding of Pidgin and English
  • Unsupervised Neural Machine Translation (UNMT) from Pidgin to English

Building this model from scratch was a challenging task as a Pidgin English catalogue never existed at the time of the project. This project was worked upon for three months after which their work was presented at the NeurIPS (Neural Information Processing Systems) 2019 workshop in Canada. Unfortunately, they could not be present at the AI conference because of visa delays. This breakthrough signals a lot of opportunities for African opinions to be represented in AI advancements and technologies that shape the everyday modern life. Also, with this model, more engineers can build more NLP (Natural Language Processing) work on Pidgin English which is available on Github. Future researchers can also use the data available to create chatbots, spellcheckers and music lyrics generator as most Nigerian music is deeply embedded in pidgin. It is expected that this model will be deployed on devices and platforms for practical translation over time as the model is built upon and more developers and AI engineers incorporate it into their work.

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As promised, I bring you today’s quote by Maya Angelou to encourage you:

“If you do not like something, change it. If you cannot change, change your attitude”

– Maya Angelou

So much can be said about this quote but I will leave you to your own interpretation and application.

Featured Image Source: Techcabal

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Aanuoluwapo Olajide

Aanuoluwapo Olajide is a freelance writer who believes that words are fundamental blocks and are the force of life and death. She is a tech enthusiast, fashion designer and a lover of words.

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