Aeroplanes, Jet Lag and Sparse Learning…

March has been a strange sort of month for the team. There has been a lot of travelling, especially for Jon who is still trying to manage the after effects of an 8 hour shift one way closely followed by an 6 hour shift the other. Some of us think he’s always been a bit vague… Travelling can not only be tiring but it can also get in the way of what we think of as the real work so there has to be a good reason for one of us to clamber onto an aeroplane.

In this case the request from UBS to evaluate a system proposed by colleagues elsewhere proved well worth the hassle of aeroplanes and jet lag. Jon travelled to Chiang Mai to learn more of the work under evaluation and then both Jon and Neil flew out to Dallas to help create a development roadmap and consider where our systems might contribute. Colleagues from other Bible Societies and Mission Agencies took part and it was good to renew acquaintance with old friends, some not seen for many years.

The good news for us was that our current R&D strategy is already closely aligned with the opportunities created by this new initiative and the time spent in Chiang Mai and Dallas has also proved very fruitful in encouraging us to exploit our systems in new and exciting contexts. One observation which emerged from the discussions was the need for translators to benefit from MAT systems at the earliest stages of a translation. This has encouraged us to think much harder about how our systems can learn from very sparse data. Sparse or Incremental Learning as it is sometimes called is a big challenge for machines. We are looking forward to exploring what might be done.

There is one more aeroplane to negotiate before Easter (when we were first planning for 2017 we imagined it would be the only one in the first half of the year!) as both Jon and Neil are attending the Association of Computational Linguistics European chapter conference, EACL2017. This is a triennial event held this time in Valencia in Spain. It is an opportunity for us to learn more of other people’s work and see where the trends in wider machine translation are leading and how Bible translation might benefit.

Please pray:

  • that new collaborations may bear good fruit,
  • giving thanks for travelling mercies in February and March and praying for safe journeys to and from EACL 2017 in Spain.
  • for focus and clarity as we work towards delivering our names finder module for ParaTExt,
  • and for space to imagine new ways of helping translators worldwide.

Don’t forget you can still contribute to our computer hardware costs on-line at our donation page on MyDonate and get the benefit of Gift Aid as well. If you’d prefer to donate via more traditional means please contact us and we shall send you details.


God of love,
passionate and strong,
tender and careful:
watch over us and hold us
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.