Working Group 3:

Language rights

Language Rights in the Human-Machine Era: Speaking to Technology and Through Technology

Imagine a world where you can’t access vital information during a crisis because it’s only available in a language you don’t understand. This is a growing concern as technology rapidly advances.

Problem and Focus

We explore how language rights keep pace with techno-societal advancements and how to ensure everyone can participate equally in a world where AI-driven language technology is increasingly integrated in every layer of human activity.

Specific Concerns

Exponential technological development gives rise to questions regarding equal access to information and services in minority languages, promoting fair interaction between technology and diverse languages, and safeguarding the well-being of language communities facing a global landscape with only a few major languages taking the lead.

Global Context

These issues are particularly pressing considering global challenges like pandemics, conflicts, and natural disasters. When information is crucial, everyone needs access in their preferred language(s).

Key Issues

In light of the importance of communication and access to information, the activities of the Working Group Language Rights (WG3) within the COST Action “Language in the Human-Machine Era” (LITHME) investigate several key aspects:

  • Technology and Crisis Response: How can we ensure technology helps, not hinders, access to information during crises and disasters? Can it reach everyone who needs it, regardless of language?
  • Technological Inclusion: How can tools like Machine Translation empower communities with limited access to communication, education, and other essential services? This includes Deaf communities, migrants, refugees, and other people who speak minority and minoritised languages, or live in linguistically marginalised communities.
  • Stakeholder Involvement: The principle of “Nothing about us, without us” is critical. How can we ensure those impacted by language technology have a voice in its development and deployment?
  • Ethics and Accessibility: Is language technology simply a new form of commercialised ableism? WG3 examines the ethical implications of language technology and the need for accessibility for all languages, not just the most well-resourced.

The Promise and Peril of Human-Machine Interaction

The future promises exciting advancements like “smart” glasses and earpieces, along with further evolving chatbots, avatars, robots, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, etc. Speaking through and to these technologies will potentially enable seamless inter- and intra-lingual communication and boost participation in civic life. However, these advancements still raise concerns about the impact on languages with fewer technological resources compared to dominant languages.

Finding a Balanced Future

While language technology holds the potential for better communication and inclusion, WG3 also emphasises the importance of addressing ethical and rights considerations surrounding Artificial Intelligence. By exploring these challenges and opportunities, WG3 aims to ensure that the human-machine era empowers everyone, regardless of language, to participate fully in our technologically driven world.

Ongoing Activities

  • Follow our 2023 – 2024 (last year of LITHME) online talks with experts from academia, international organisations, think tanks, communities, and IT companies.
  • LITHME 4th annual conference will be held at UCLouvain (Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium) on 2-3 September 2024. This year’s theme is: ‘Exploring the Dark Side of Future Language Technologies: Linguistic (In)security, Ethics, and Privacy in the Human-Machine Era’. Your participation may contribute to the advancement of language rights. Selection for funded places will be made by the conference scientific committee. The deadline for submitting your abstract is June 8th, 2024. More details of funding eligibility, the conference theme, and a link to the abstract submission form are on our website: https://lithme.eu/conference2024/
  • Call for Papers: Special Issue on Language, Law and Rights: Balancing AI Driven Technology and Equity. The Journal of Language and Law/Linguagem e Direito. Submit your paper before October 14th, 2024.

Resources

The 2023 Training School teaching materials on Language Rights in the Human-Machine Era. This presentation is a collaboration between working groups 3, 4, 5, and 7. It explores the implications of new language technologies for language rights, while considering the following questions:

  • Are we ready for the coming human-machine era, in which we will increasingly interact with technology that can translate languages, generate text, and “understand” natural language?
  • What are the challenges posed by new language technologies to traditional theories of language rights?
  • How can we ensure that future language technologies are used in a way that respects the rights of all language users, including speakers of endangered and minority languages?
  • What about highly multilingual and not so technological countries (case of Peru)?
  • Language Technology, endangered languages, language rights: friend or foe? – team debate animated by WG 1 and WG 3 chairs.

You are welcome to access these materials, whether or not you attended the Training School.

Keywords:

Crisis communication, disaster response, accessibility, underrepresented groups, minority language rights, inclusivity, ethical implications.

WG chairs:


Angela Soltan

angela [ a t ] soltan.md


Rebekah Rousi

rebekah.rousi [ a t ] uwasa.fi


Lucía Ruiz Rosendo

lucia.ruiz [ a t ] unige.ch

Interested?

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