The Welsh government has a plan to make smart home devices speak Welsh
Google Home, Amazon Echo and other language-dependent devices may soon expand their repertoire to include Welsh. At least, that’s what the Welsh government’s language technology action plan hopes to achieve.
The plan aims to use technology to help teach and enhance the use of Welsh in homes, workplaces and schools. It highlights several areas of interest that could be used to further this cause.
In total, the plan highlights 18 ‘work packages’ that explore areas of work that can be done, to use technology to preserve and expand the Welsh language.
An important aspect of the action plan is to improve computer-assisted translations. Google Translate is notoriously inaccurate when it comes to Welsh, with a BBC report noting the negative effect poor translations can have on the lesser-used language.
Other work packages include constructing a list of Welsh-language ICT resources available for use in the workplace, developing Welsh-language machine learning and conversational AI, and creating interactive maps with Welsh-language place names.
An important part of using technology to enhance Welsh language usage is through smart assistants and home hubs capable of conversational AI and speech technology. While Google Home devices currently support a selection of languages, and both it and Amazon Echo devices understand regional accents, neither support conversation or commands in Welsh.
This need for Welsh-understanding AI includes personal assistants like Siri and Alexa. Since speech recognition is an increasingly prevalent part of modern technology, it makes sense that assistants are taught to understand the languages that are still spoken today.
The intention of the Welsh government is to increase childrens’ opportunities to learn Welsh at school, as well as increase the prevalence of the language in workplaces and homes. A 2012 paper estimated that 700,000 people around the world still speak Welsh, with thousands of speakers in countries like Argentina and Canada.
Eluned Morgan, minister for Welsh language and lifelong learning, said “Technology also provides many opportunities for us to increase our use of Welsh or to learn Welsh but to do this we need to have the correct infrastructure in place.
“Technology moves quickly. Welsh needs to move with technology. That is the aim of our Plan.”