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Humans engage AI in translation competition

Tue 14 Feb 2017

Human translators will face off against artificially intelligent (AI) machine translators next week in Seoul, South Korea.

The competition, sponsored by Sejong Cyber University and the International Interpretation and Translation Association (IITA) will pit human translators against Google Translate and Naver Papago.

Google Translate and Naver Papago are two of the most popular English-Korean AI translation services. Both use Neural Machine Translation (NMT), which replaces traditional word-for-word systems with full-sentence translation, helping to improve syntax and flow in machine translations.

Neural Machine Translation also creates machines that are capable of self-improvement through deep learning and big data analysis.

The challenge for competitors will be to translate two randomly selected news articles from English to Korean, and two from Korean to English. Each competitor will have 30 minutes per article to complete the translation, which will be judged for accuracy. Judges have been selected from professors at Sejong University and professional translators with the IITA.

Sejong University will live stream the event. The expectation is that the artificial intelligence programs will win for speed, but that the human translators will win for accuracy. However, in the research paper published by Google with the initial announcement of Neural Machine Translation, human–versus-AI tests showed that the AI program was able to translate random sentences with near-human accuracy.

IITA Secretary-General Kang Dae-young said, “We hope to confirm that humans and machines have different strengths and weaknesses and highlight that human professionals will still have their roles in translation and interpretation of the future.”

In one study comparing Google Translate to Naver Papago in English-Korean translations, it was found that Naver was better at translating slang, while Google was better at long sentences. Both performed well in translating short sentences accurately.

With advances in deep learning, human versus AI competitions are growing in popularity. Just last month, a poker competition at Carnegie Mellon University pitted humans against an AI program called Libratus. The 20-day competition ended with the machine winning by a resounding $1.76 million in chips over human competitors. A different program, DeepStack, recently became the first to beat humans at no-limit poker.


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