On Friday, Politico published an analysis by Paris-based journalist Claire Berlinski. At first, the article is about the rapid advances in recent years in accurate translation technology which is making important changes in how we communicate as she revealed in “The Surprising Reason Europe Came Together Against Putin.” But near the end, its revelations about Twitter are transformed into just another rant against Elon Musk’s takeover.
First, there’s the interesting part:
Europe has more than 200 native languages and mutually incomprehensible dialects. All of its 24 official languages are highly developed, each with its own media, textbooks, movies and language academies. These languages, and their use in schools, workplaces and families, define a country’s identity.
But we’re now living, for the first time, in an era where everyone in Europe — from politicians to cab drivers — can understand one another. It’s true that previously, diplomats could communicate through translators and, typically, in English. Now, ordinary Europeans can understand one another, instantly and accurately, and because of the compulsive lure of social media — and Twitter’s decision to automatically translate every tweet — Europeans can and do talk to each other all day long. Talking to Ukrainians, and hearing directly from them, has hardened public support for sanctions and weapons transfers in the EU, despite Russian threats and soaring energy prices. Eurobarometer polling shows that 74 percent of EU citizens back the bloc’s support for Kyiv.
And here is an explanation of the background behind the translation technology miracle:
The revolution came in 2016, when Google introduced digital neural networks, modeled on the way learning takes place, we think, in the human brain. A Neural Machine Translation (NMT) model uses neural networks to study the relationship between the source and target languages by processing massive amounts of parallel text data. It learns from the data and improves the translations by adjusting the weights of the neurons. Unlike its predecessor, it isn’t phrase-based. In NMT, words or parts of words are converted into numerical representations called “word vectors.” These contain information not only about the meaning of the word, but its context. So “milk,” for example, no longer merely represents a word that may be translated as leche, Milch, or молоко. It represents all the information the model has about how humans use that word.
Google formally launched its NMT model for Google Translate in November 2016. It did so discreetly and with little fanfare. By the next day, it had shown improvements equal to the total gains the old system had shown over its lifetime. It continues to learn at this speed. The results, now in more than 109 languages, are astonishing. Mother-tongue language speakers asked to rate Google’s translations on a scale from 0 to 6 offer an average rating of 5.43.
If Berlinski had only stopped after writing over about 75% of her article it would have been a refreshingly informative piece but, unfortunately, Politico just has to conform to the leftist narrative on Big Tech, so at the tail end of her story we have this:
But the story now becomes melancholy. With Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, it is all threatened. Recently, Musk tweeted, “In coming months, Twitter will translate & recommend amazing tweets from people in other countries & cultures.” It’s unclear whether he understands that Twitter already does this.
In reality, dozens of Ukrainians have told me that since the takeover, Twitter’s service has suffered to the point of compromising their ability effectively to use it. They don’t see tweets from accounts they once followed and don’t know if the outside world sees theirs. Many tweets are no longer translated at all. No one knows if this is because Twitter is suffering a technical breakdown as a result of the purging of its workforce, or if it’s deliberate.
The weird part is the slam on Musk because he (gasp!) wants peace in a situation that could lead to the nuclear war nobody wants.
Some Ukrainians are worried about Musk’s susceptibility to manipulation by Putin. On Twitter in October, Musk proposed a peace deal that would allow Russia to keep the annexed region of Crimea and force Ukraine to drop a bid for membership in NATO. Ukrainians were appalled.
And finally the laughably apocalyptic conclusion to the story they started out promising and ended in an absurd mudslide of antipathy towards Musk.
These may be the last days of Twitter, as many have written — or perhaps just the last days of Twitter in Europe. Since Musk’s arrival, Twitter has become a sewer of Holocaust denial and other content that violates EU digital regulations. There are growing concerns here, too, about the security of users’ data. EU commissioner Thierry Breton has reportedly given Musk an ultimatum: Comply with the law or leave.
But if Twitter does disappear from Europe, and with it, translated tweets, Europe will again become a Tower of Babel, siloed by country and language. This would be a victory for Putin and a loss for the rest of us — at least until a new platform comes along and sees the value in everything Google Translate and social media have achieved just in the last few years.
Sniff! Gone are the glorious days of the FBI censors behind the scenes at Twitter, tragically replaced by someone who promotes the free speech that seems to be so despised by Politico and its fellow liberals. Goodbye cruel world!