Communication has already been shifting into the digital space for quite a while. It is entirely common to communicate through technology and web applications, but there are certain challenges and issues. For example, is every language ready for this digital transformation? What is the digital future of small languages? The possibilities of these small languages and their application in the virtual world is the focus of Tilde IT, who is building the first Lithuanian-speaking virtual meeting assistant.
The First Lithuanian-Speaking Virtual Meeting Assistant
While information technology is accessible to the majority of society and is also widely used, the linguistic aspects present the first issue. According to Tilde IT managing director, Renata Špukienė, if a technology does not support Lithuanian, it is nearly impossible to adapt it to the Lithuanian market.
"One example is the management of online meetings that became widely popular during the pandemic. Virtual meetings are so common that a virtual assistant who understands Lithuanian is more important than ever." says R. Špukienė
“Tilde IT is building an artificial intelligence solution that encompasses an automatic translator and an automatic speech recognition and transcription tool. This solution will be adapted to four languages with intricate morphology—Lithuanian, Estonian, Latvian, and Russian—that do not have equivalent solutions in the market yet."
As the director of Tilde IT pointed out, the value of this virtual assistant lies not only in its ability to speak Lithuanian, but also in the capabilities of the platform: “Our virtual meeting assistant will be able to deliver detailed meeting reports and summaries, record the responsibilities of teams or individuals, identify key tasks and the people responsible, and automatically send out information to the meeting participants.”
Supporting the Vision of a Multilingual World
The latest achievements in language technology lead to the very first multilingual solutions that focus on more than 20 smaller European languages which are sometimes under-represented in the digital world. As a language technology pioneer, Tilde supports the vision of a multilingual world where people are free to use any language they want in everyday life and business.
“For a Lithuanian native speaker, “č”, “š”, and “ž” sounds and vowels in compounds such as “ie” and “uo” seem natural. But if Lithuanian is not the native tongue, learning to pronounce these sounds is quite tricky. The same can be said about artificial intelligence that needs to be taught like a child."
“Despite these difficulties, we have already developed an automatic recognition technology for Lithuanian, allowing machines to recognize words and phrases in spoken language and then convert them into text. We want to build a technology that works inversely and allows the machine to pronounce words and read long texts in natural-sounding Lithuanian,” says R. Špukienė.
The Challenges of Small Languages in the Digital Era
Why do we need to talk about small languages in the context of technology? The world has almost 7,000 languages but not all of them are represented in the digital world—only 12 languages are used on 98% of webpages. The most common language is English, accounting for as much as 72% of webpages. R. Špukienė believes that the internet as a channel of communication should reflect people’s daily habits; however, English in the digital era can overpower the small languages and steal their focus.
“Language technologies such as Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, and Amazon Alexa are becoming increasingly popular and used daily by businesses and individuals alike. But these technologies do not “speak” any smaller languages such as Lithuanian."
“The question is, why? Is it less interesting or valuable? Smaller languages should not be overpowered by more widely-used languages. We must try to ensure that small languages are also represented in existing and developing technologies," claims R. Špukienė, emphasizing the need to work on a Lithuanian-speaking virtual meeting assistant.
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