Here’s Why This Man Taught A Bot To Read His Mother’s Texts

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Bonaventure Dossou is working on an AI model to help translate Fon to French

Bonaventure Dossou has been thinking a lot about how to improve phone conversations with his mother.

She often sends him voice messages in Fon, a Beninese language, as he is away studying in Russia. He, however, does not understand some of the phrases she uses.

“My mum cannot write Fon and I don’t speak the language very well but I’m fluent in French,” Mr Dossou told the BBC.

“I frequently ask my sister to help me understand some of the phrases mum uses,” he said.

Fon phrases in English. [ Nùkócé nɔn yìn My name is ],[ Oun yìn wàn nouwé I love you ],[ Ouh fɔn gangji I'm fine ],[ Nùnùɖù Food ], Source: Source: Bonaventure Dossou , Image: A woman riding on a motorcycle
Fon phrases in English. [ Nùkócé nɔn yìn My name is ],[ Oun yìn wàn nouwé I love you ],[ Ouh fɔn gangji I’m fine ],[ Nùnùɖù Food ], Source: Source: Bonaventure Dossou , Image: A woman riding on a motorcycle 

Improving his Fon through study is out of the question because like hundreds of other African languages, it is mostly spoken and rarely documented, so there are few, if any, books to teach the grammar and syntax.

Driven by curiosity and powered by data scraped from a Fon to French Jehovah Witness Bible, Mr Dossou and Chris Emezue, a Nigerian friend, developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) language translation model, similar to Google Translate, which they have named FFR. It is still a work in progress.

The two students are among several AI researchers using African languages in Natural Language Processing (NLP), a branch of AI used to teach and help computers understand human languages.

Source: BBC

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