AI Can Write in English. Now It’s Learning Other Languages

AI Can Write in English. Now It's Learning Other Languages

Will Knight


08.23.2021 07:00 AM AI Can Write in English. Now It’s Learning Other Languages

Startups in Germany, China, Israel, and elsewhere are following the path blazed by GPT-3—with local twists. Photograph: Busà Photography/Getty Images The AI Database →


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Technology Natural language processing Machine learning In recent years machines have learned to generate passable snippets of English, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence . Now they are moving on to other languages. Aleph Alpha , a startup in Heidelberg, Germany, has built one of the world’s most powerful AI language models. Befitting the algorithm’s European origins, it is fluent not just in English but also in German, French, Spanish, and Italian.The algorithm builds on recent advances in machine learning that have helped computers handle language with what sometimes seems like real understanding. By drawing on what it has learned from reading the web, the algorithm can dream up coherent articles on a given subject and can answer some general knowledge questions cogently.The answers, though, may differ from those produced by similar programs developed in the US. Asked about the best sports team in history, Aleph Alpha responds with a famous German soccer team. A US-built model is more likely to cite the Chicago Bulls or New York Yankees. Write the same query in French, and the answer will likely mention a famous French team, as the algorithm tunes its cultural perspective. Aleph Alpha is designed to be bilingual, meaning you can ask it a question in one language and get the answer in another.“This is transformative AI,” says Jonas Andrulis, founder and CEO of Aleph Alpha, who previously worked on AI at Apple. “If Europe doesn’t have the technical competence to build these systems, then we’re relegated to being users of something from the US or China.”After decades of slow progress in teaching machines to grasp the meaning of words and sentences, machine learning has produced some promising progress. Startups are rushing to spin gold out of AI’s growing language skills. OpenAI , a US startup, was the first to showcase a powerful new kind of AI language model , called GPT-2, in 2019. It offers a new, more powerful version, GPT-3, to select startups and researchers through an API. A few other US companies, including Cohere and Anthropic , which was founded by alumni of OpenAI, are working on similar tools.Now, a growing number of companies outside the US—in China, South Korea, and Israel as well as Germany—are building general-purpose AI language tools. Each effort has its own technical twists, but all are based on the same advances in machine learning.The rise of AI programs that wield language in useful ways is partly about money. All sorts of things can be built on top of them: intelligent email assistants , programs that write useful computer code , and systems that generate marketing copy, to name a few.Getting machines to grasp language has […]

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