Business and Technology
Meta Touts Translation Advances
Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg announced on Wednesday that his firm now had a block of 200 languages that could be translated into each other, doubling the number in just two years.
The universal translator is a staple of science fiction, but Google, Meta and others are locked in a battle to get as many languages as possible working with their AI models.
But researchers warn that the dream of a real-time conversation translator is still some way off.
"We should not imagine that the 200x200 language pairs will be at the same level of quality," said researcher Francois Yvon of Facebook's model.
Meta's innovation, trumpeted in 2020, was to break the link with English -- long a conduit language because of the vast availability of sources.
Instead, Meta's models go direct from, say, Chinese to French without going through English.
In May, Google announced its own great leap forward, adding 24 languages to Google Translate after pioneering techniques to reduce noise in the samples of lesser-used languages.
The challenge of automatic translation is "particularly important" for Facebook because of the hate speech and inappropriate content it needs to filter, Yvon told AFP.
European languages, for example, would probably always have an advantage simply because there are more reliable sources.
The tool would help English-speaking moderators, for example, to identify such content in many other languages.
Meta's promotional videos, however, focus on the liberating aspects of the technology -- amateur chefs having recipes from far and wide appearing at their fingertips.
And the ultimate nut to crack is inventing a tool that can seamlessly translate the spoken word.
"We're not there yet, but we're working on it," said Antoine Bordes, who runs Fair, Meta's AI research lab.
He said Meta's speech translation project works on far fewer languages at the moment.
"But the interest will be in connecting the two projects, so that one day we will be able to speak in 200 languages while retaining intonations, emotions, accents," he said.
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Africa Air Controllers Pause Strike
A 48-hour strike by air traffic controllers in West and Central Africa has been suspended, their union said on Saturday.
The Union of Air Traffic Controllers' Unions (USYCAA), which called the wildcat strike, said in a statement it decided suspend its strike notice for 10 days immediately so as to allow for negotiations.
The strike, which started on Friday, has disrupted flights across the region and left hundreds of passengers stranded at airports on Saturday.
"Air traffic services will be provided in all air spaces and airports managed by ASECNA from today Saturday, September 24, 2022 at 1200 GMT," the statement said.
The controllers work under the Agency for Aerial Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA).
Paul Francois Gomis, a leader of the Senegalese air traffic controllers told Reuters that ASECNA staff demand better working and pay conditions. He said the Dakar airport air traffic controllers are short-staffed with only 60 people working when, he asserts, 80 are really needed.
Air Controller Strike Threatens Africa Travel
A 48-hour strike planned by some staff of French-speaking West Africa and Madagascar aviation safety agency ASECNA starting on Friday, could impact some flight operations in the region, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
ASECNA said two of its six flight information regions could be affected by the strike despite court decisions and government bans on the strike in Togo, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo and Senegal.
"ASECNA is under the threat of a strike decided by the Union of Trade Unions of Air Controllers, a clandestine organization which is not recognised by any of the member states of the agency," it said in the statement.
The 18-member states organisation manages air traffic control in an area covering 16.1 million square kilometres of airspace.
"The Niamey flight information region is expected to be impacted," ASECNA said, urging passengers to check updated flight information and so-called Notice-to-Airmen (NOTAM) it will publish on its website. It added that a Niger court decision on the legality of the strike was expected.
It added that there were also risks with the airspace controlled by the Brazzaville, Congo flight information region due to the planned strike. It gave no further details on the risks, but added that a Congo government decision was also expected.
On Thursday, a court in Senegal suspended the call to strike by air traffic controllers in Senegal and Ivory Coast, the agency said.
But Paul Francois Gomis, a leader of the striking Senegalese air traffic controllers told Reuters that they are maintaining their decision to go on strike from 0800 GMT on Friday.
Gomis said ASECNA staff are demanding better working and pay conditions. He said the Dakar airport Air traffic controllers are short-staffed with only 60 people working where 80 are really needed.
Dakar airport authorities could not be reached for comments.
South Africa Joins Rate Hike Round
South Africa's central bank on Thursday raised its benchmark interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to 6.25 percent in a bid to fight inflation. The move follows interest rate hikes by a number of other nations in recent days.
The rate hike follows a similar 0.75 percent boost in July -- the highest in a decade.
That, as inflation soared to 7.8 percent in July, near a 13-year record high.
The South African Reserve Bank, in announcing the hike, voiced concerns over high inflation and weak economic growth.
"The Monetary Policy Committee decided to increase the repurchase rate by 75 basis points to 6.25 percent per year," bank governor Lesetja Kganyago said.
"The level of the repurchase rate is now closer to the level prevailing before the start of the pandemic," he said.
The move is the fifth rate hike in a row.
Nigeria's Public Debt Grows
Nigeria's total public debt rose 3% to $103.3 billion in the second quarter of this year, largely driven by local borrowing to finance the budget deficit, the Debt Management Office (DMO) said.
The DMO said in its latest data, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, that public debt increased from $100.07 billion as of March this year to $103.3 billion by the end of June.
Although the debt constitutes 23% of the country's gross domestic product - within the government's self-imposed limit of 40% - Nigeria's debt repayment costs are rising while revenues are shrinking.
Between January and April, Nigeria spent more money to service its debt than it raised as revenue.
Nigeria's deficit has grown this year due to the high cost of a fuel subsidy at a time when oil revenue has fallen due to crude theft and vandalism of pipelines.
Petro Nicking "Treason" - Nigerian Lawmaker
Crude oil theft in Nigeria, which is blamed for throttling output and exports, is tantamount to treason that should be punished by the stiffest possible penalty, the Speaker of the House of Representatives said on Tuesday.
Femi Gbajabiamila said Nigeria's crude exports were at their lowest in two decades, blaming it on crude theft that he described as "treason against our country".
Oil production fell below 1 million barrels per day in August, figures from the regulator show.
"Those who seek to impoverish our country in this manner have declared war against the Nigerian people," he told legislators when reconvening the House of Representatives after a two-month break.
"The government's response must be sufficient to convince them of the error of their ways and deter others who might be tempted to join in their treason."
President Muhammadu Buhari last month expressed concern over large-scale theft of crude oil, saying it was affecting the country's revenue "enormously."