AI and Bible Translation ?

Given our roles in supporting Bible Translation in the domains of linguistics and technology, it begs the question about the role of AI and machine learning in Bible translation. This is something that we have been working on more actively recently and will be more and more as we move forward.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

There are currently just a few options for low-resource languages to use for Bible translation. In this context, low- resource languages are those without large amounts of recordings or books written and published and available for computers to use in their learning and analysis. The language communities that we are working with are definitely low on resources from a language technology perspective as there may be no written or published materials in the language at all for use in computer modeling. But as linguistics field work and literacy work is done with a language group, there are ways to help move Bible translation forward using computers to help.

ScriptureForge – drafting of Scripture that is based on previously translated Bible text, currently useful for producing back-translations, which are a necessary step in translation checking for accuracy, clarity, and naturalness. In the near future, the hope is that it could also provide translation suggestions into the target language and learn as it goes.
TBTA – grammatically tagged draft from original Hebrew and Greek. This needs a lot of work to make it natural and clear and takes a lot of preparatory work to label the linguistics tags of the target language, sort of like making a grammar and dictionary for the computer to follow.
FLExTrans – interlinearisation of text, using a closely related language as source and based on good linguistic rules of the differences between the languages to make a good draft.

None of these options are perfect and none of them work as well as something like a chat bot but for undocumented languages or those with little previous development, these are options that are worth exploring and trying out, so that is what we are doing.

Next week, there will be an initial training in Cameroon to explore more how AI can be used to draft an Old Testament in a waiting language using an already translated New Testament using Scripture Forge. Please pray with us for good understanding of the possibilities and limitations inherent in using AI and also for a clear way to bring God’s Word to communities sooner.