Huge Question/Problem: While we have not yet narrowed down our focus to just one question, we have three different possibilities in regards to language and its role in the world. Two of our problems are quite similar and deal with overcoming the language barrier through technology in as seamless a way as possible in order to facilitate greater global communication and understanding. Our other possible problem to tackle deals with language endangerment and how we can go about stopping languages from going extinct.
Why our project is important/ Is our problem big enough?: The ‘language barrier’ poses a problem to almost everyone at some point in their lives, and can cause problems in multiple occasions and to varying degrees; from mundane everyday tasks to more urgent situations such as in regards to emergency medical care etc. Poor translation can also affect people trying to adjust to life in a new environment. It makes them feel like outcasts, afraid or unable to seek certain kinds of help (e.g. medical) for fear of miscommunication. This is especially important in situations, such as with professionals like doctors or lawyers, where important, technical information has to be communicated perfectly and can’t be diluted or changed in translation.
One of the ideas we briefly considered was regarding the process of learning a language, where we believed that by analyzing the syntactical breakdown of languages in greater detail and incorporating technology into the mix in a greater capacity, we could considerably speed up the process. However, we did not consider this enough of a 'moonshot idea' and also found a multitude of other technologies and ideas hoping to accomplish the same goal. Another idea that we touched on before moving on had to do with the learning process and how audiobooks could be used in a much greater capacity to improve people's learning and save on time, money and effort. This idea was brought about after reading an article that elaborated on how listening to an audiobook and reading a hard copy of one activated the same cognitive ideas. We moved on from this idea as the others we considered were truer to the definition of a moonshot and piqued our interests more.
Possible Solutions: One possible solution to the problem of universal communication and word sense induction is to create an algorithm and technological device that is capable of seamless real-time translation of every language there is. In order to achieve such a technology, we would have to take a deep dive into machine learning, and would also have to get help from native speakers of every language there is in order to feed in appropriate information to the algorithm . This can also be achieved using data collected from current translation algorithms, though it would have to be in much greater detail and with much more input from native speakers as to avoid the pitfalls of over-literal translations and adapt the device to every languages nuances. In the case of language endangerment, we could keep records of languages such that we are able to preserve the integrity of the language and culture - we could use some sort of 4D immersive situation, like VR learning to help evoke an emotional response in the brain that a word causes - e.g. the word “oo-kah-huh-sdee” in Cherokee, which represents the mouth-watering, cheek-pinching delight experienced when seeing an adorable baby or a kitten, where its semantic meaning can be evoked by triggering some part in the brain?
The inability to communicate due to not understanding their language is a situation most people find themselves at some point in their lives. In these cases, where information is unable to be conveyed or is incorrectly conveyed due to mistranslations, there are often negative consequences for all parties involved and everyone loses out. Establishing a method of universal communication without the need for everyone to learn every language would benefit everyone tremendously and that is what we hope to do.
With the loss of a language, there is the inevitable loss of history, tradition and culture. Centuries of precious knowledge of different peoples can be lost due to an avoidable phenomenon that we hope to eliminate as a problem.