Meta's 'No Language Left Behind' AI Can Now Translate 200 Languages

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read
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Meta has achieved a breakthrough in its AI research.


What's happening

Meta's No Language Left Behind AI project can now translate 200 different languages.

Why it matters

For many people around the world speaking rare or less commonly used languages, better translation tools promise to make the internet a more inclusive place for them to communicate and express themselves.

What's next

Meta will use No Language Left Behind to improve translation on Facebook and Instagram, before eventually deploying it in the metaverse. It's also making it open source for anyone else to use.

In our increasingly globalized online world, having effective translation tools at our fingertips is vital to communicating across borders, cultures and languages. For native speakers of languages such as English and Spanish, these tools are now pretty advanced, but the less commonly spoken a language is, the less likely it is that native speakers of those languages will be able to make use of these tools.

That's where Meta's No Languages Left Behind project to build an AI model that can translate ever-more languages, even those that are less commonly spoken comes in. First announced in March, the AI model can now translate across 200 languages, the tech giant said Thursday.

Calling it an "AI superpower," Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post that not only will it be used across Meta's different products and services, but it will also be available on github for anyone else to make use of.

"We just open-sourced an AI model we built that can translate across 200 different languages -- many which aren't supported by current translation systems," he said. "We call this project No Language Left Behind, and the AI modeling techniques we used from NLLB are helping us make high quality translations on Facebook and Instagram for languages spoken by billions of people around the world."

Meta invests heavily in AI research, with hubs of scientists across the globe building realistic avatars for use in virtual worlds and tools to reduce hate speech across its platforms, among many other weird and wonderful things. This investment allows the company to ensure it stays at the cutting edge of innovation by working with the top AI researchers, while also maintaining a link with the wider research community by open-sourcing projects such as No Languages Left Behind.

The major challenge in creating a translation model that will work across rarer languages is that the researchers have a much smaller pool of data -- in this case examples of sentences -- to train the model versus, say, English. In many cases, they had to find people who spoke those languages to help them provide the data, and then check that the translations were correct.

No Language Left Behind can be applied immediately across existing Meta social platforms. But researchers from the company believe that it's in the metaverse -- Meta's big bet for the future -- where the tool will really come into its own. "For billions of people around the world, they don't have access to a technology or a translation service that really works well for their language," Angela Fan, a Meta AI research scientist, said in a video produced by the company. "We're really hoping the technology we're developing will make the metaverse inclusive by design."