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PARLEZ VOUS INTERNET?

Data scientists are trying to make the internet accessible in every language

Pro-democracy protesters light up their mobile phones as they attend a mass rally in Thailand.
Reuters/Soe Zeya
Access for all.
  • Nicolás Rivero
By Nicolás Rivero

Reporter

If you speak one of about two dozen dominant languages, the internet is your oyster.

You can navigate the web in your own tongue. If you come across a website or document in an unfamiliar language, your browser will instantly translate for you. Search engines can intuit what you’re looking for from a few cryptic keywords. Digital keyboards carry the special characters and diacritical marks you need. Voice assistants understand you. Spell checkers automatically catch your mistakes, while predictive text helps you craft memos and emails.

All these conveniences are powered by language-specific AI programs, and they’re available to more than 4 billion speakers of languages like English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Hindi. But this is not how the other half browses. Roughly 3.5 billion speakers of around 7,000 other languages don’t have access to some or any of these AI-powered tools—shutting them out of the internet’s most powerful benefits, many of which we take for granted.

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