Something that we’ve probably all suspected for a while – but (also probably) never enough to actually research – is that in many places, more people come from multilingual households than monolingual ones. In South Africa, for example, that’s most of us. In other countries, this may not be as prevalent, but there are enough of us polyglots out there that Google has been hard at work over the years on a new language option for their Assistant.

That’s right, in a post from the Google Blog by Manuel Bronstein, the Vice President of Product, the company announced that the Google Assistant will now be able to not only follow conversations which switch between two languages, but will be able to respond to bilingual queries from users. Because the AI apocalypse will start in Europe, right now the Assistant can only interact this way in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Japanese (because, why not?). More languages will follow… soon.

For those who are inclined to know that sort of thing, the Google AI Blog goes into more detail as to how the team managed to create this new feature. For everybody else, the summary:

First, they had to teach the Assistant how to recognise multiple languages. For people, this is relatively simple – inflection and tonal changes are a big clue, and no longer having any idea what’s going on is rather helpful. For a machine, however, not having any clue what’s going on is the default, so they developed a LangID model which could recognise the various changes which indicate language shift, and then follow them in longer conversations.

Then they had to teach the Assistant how to understand which languages were being spoken. That involved the use of Babelfish running two sets of language recognition systems simultaneously, and teaching them how to interpret word and phrase groupings, integrate your preferences and come up with the most likely command you were trying to give.

Finally! They had to make the Assistant as efficient at possible at recognising languages so it could stop running through combinations and get to interpreting the request.  That part was totally accomplished by synthesising Babelfish, and no amount of explanation will convince me otherwise.

So yeah, one day Google will be able to spy on you even when you’re switching languages. Fun!