Translation chatbots and the US election

The Dallas News reported that TV ads in Spanish are targeting Latino voters in this year’s tight midterm races. However, results are “mixed.”

“TV ads on their own are not enough to attract Latino voters. Instead, grass-roots engagement early will be more effective to reach those who do not typically vote in midterm elections,” Jenny Manrique’s article stated.

With political campaigns suggesting that texting young voters can be an effective method for getting the vote out, translation chatbots may actually play a role in this year’s elections. Not because the chatbots themselves are sending messages… people don’t mind real political texts in some circumstances, but they may dislike getting political spam from bots. Potentially, however, having a translation bot aid a real human interaction is a little different. And for the first time in any election, Facebook Messenger is now providing the opportunity for people to have Spanish-English messages automatically translated.

It’s anticipated that 80% of all businesses will use chatbots by 2020. They are now available on almost every platform, and are more intuitive than ever. Nonprofits use them as well, including to interact with voters in Spanish on voter ID laws.

Even though some of the biggest chatbots, like Siri and Alexa, are relatively new, this technology actually dates back to the mid 20th century.

In 1950, Alan Touring theorized that an intelligent machine would be indistinguishable from a human in a text-only conversation. In 1966, MIT Professor, Joseph Weizenbaum invented Eliza, the world’s first chatterbot, which imitated the language of a therapist using only 200 lines of code.

Chatbots have come a long way since then. However, still in its infancy is the translation bot. For a translation bot to be 100% accurate, it must identify innuendos, syntax, grammar and inflection. For this reason, Facebook announced its first translation bot only this year, and it has rolled out only one language pair: English-Spanish, which it’s offering on Messenger to US users.  

Translation bots are not quite there yet. But they are ever improving. This infographic explains where translation bots started and where they are today.

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