People of Wales, it’s time to speak up – so that the machines of the future understand us

A child talking to Siri

Rhoslyn Prys

How do you like to talk to your servants? Not a common question these days, but maybe in the future, it will be. And it’s best to prepare for that future now.

This week Mozilla, the American internet foundation who produce Firefox and Thunderbird, proponents of safety and privacy on the internet, launched an extension of their attempt to create tools to enable you to talk to machines.

Nothing new there maybe, but this isn’t a closed, proprietary initiative like with Amazon, Apple or Microsoft. This will be available for all developers to use in their new technologies in the future.

We need to ensure that English accents from all over Wales are included, to make sure that devices would understand and respond to everyone in all parts of our country. Oh, that our political servants could do that!

But it isn’t only for English. One of the main points of interest for us in Wales is the fact that the door has been thrown open to other languages, and that it now includes German, French and, yes – Welsh.

This reflects the joint working in this field between the Language Technologies Unit at Bangor University and Mozilla.

The Language Technologies Unit had embarked on a program to develop Welsh language speech software given the popularity of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

Ask at any primary school and many of the children will have these technologies at home. But without Welsh-language speech technology, there is a danger that Welsh will be undermined as the language of the home.

Paldaruo, as the Language Technologies Unit’s program was called, was an instant hit and many Welsh speakers contributed their voices to the programme.

With Mozilla’s new venture Common Voice, the Unit are able to build on to more powerful technologies and benefit from Mozilla’s worldwide reach.

Common Voice is available at voice.mozilla.org, click at the top of the page for English or Welsh.

Please contribute to both languages if you can. Please ask your friends and family to contribute.

We need thousands of voices from all parts of Wales, in Welsh and English, to ensure that this is as an effective technology that works for everyone in this country.

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