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Gov’t plans to develop upgraded AI interpreter

  • January 6, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 8:09 p.m.
  • English Press

The government plans to start developing simultaneous interpretation technology using artificial intelligence in fiscal 2020, as the number of foreign residents is expected to increase further under a newly introduced resident status for holders of certain specified skills.


The new technology will cover 15 languages, including English, Chinese and Korean as well as Portuguese and Mongolian. The government aims to put the technology into practical use by 2025.


It is the main pillar of a revised version of the “Comprehensive Measures for Acceptance and Coexistence of Foreign Nationals,” which was compiled at a ministerial meeting. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which is in charge of the matter, allocated ¥1.4 billion for related expenses in the fiscal 2020 budget.


Major information and technology companies are competing to develop translation technology, which can be used even on portable devices. Conventional systems translate short sentences one by one and do not sufficiently cope with long sentences. The conversation becomes choppy because interpretation starts after a person has finished speaking.


Local governments in Japan provide interpretation terminals that can handle short sentences to deal with foreign residents, and the internal affairs ministry has promoted the introduction of such devices. However, some have called for improvement, saying it is useful for simple daily conversation, but can’t help people communicate smoothly for long explanations.


The ministry will therefore embark on developing a new technology that enables smooth communication in which interpretation starts in the middle of speech, like simultaneous interpreters do, by using AI technology that stores a large amount of text in each language.


It aims to conclude consignment contracts with the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, a research institute under the jurisdiction of the ministry, as well as translation companies and app producers, to promote the research.


The ministry also hopes to reduce the number of incorrect translations by providing technology with unique Japanese expressions and place names, something at which U.S. tech companies are not good. The technology will also try to choose correct translations out of many homonyms by judging from the contexts.


The ministry is considering adding Nepalese and Khmer, since many holders of specified skills are expected to come from Nepal and Cambodia.


According to the ministry, when the envisaged technology is completed, it will be used at local government offices and medical institution counters for foreign residents. The ministry also intends to encourage tourist facilities and hotels around the country to use the system for foreign tourists.

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