As companies scale, globalization is an inevitable step in that path.

Globalization brings great opportunities and at the same time, companies need to be able to navigate through challenges of multiple languages, cultural norms, legalities, and taxations, among other things.

Artificial Intelligence (AI), in its simplest form, allows a device to perform tasks that require human intelligence. Can AI help companies with globalization? Absolutely. While AI could possibly provide a different way to approach all of these challenges, this post will focus on language barriers and translations.

So, what are the language barriers that slow down the complete integration of a global company? If a company is headquartered in the US, it is likely that English is the common medium for interaction both spoken and written. While written communication naturally allows for more deliberation by the non-English speaker, verbal communication does not allow for it. The non-native English speaker needs to focus on speaking and understanding the language correctly and not necessarily the message behind the communication. If required communication takes this effort, it does not necessarily incentivize the non-native speakers to speak and bond over the English speakers on informal issues. Though it may seem trivial, these informal networks form a backbone of communication, without which companies have silos and minimal integration with global regions.

How can AI help? This is where Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) comes in. NLP is a sub-discipline of Artificial Intelligence. (To understand more on AI and its disciplines, read this excellent article by HubSpot.) NLP understands text or voice-based commands and executes the request to find answers.

If you think about it, the possibilities are endless.

Consider global company “WNG” headquartered in New York. It provides employees with Bluetooth like translation-bots that employees can wear in their ear during conference calls. For ease, let us call our translation bot “Langbot”.

This is how it could work:

A speaker speaks his/her original language and it is quickly translated and relayed to the ears of the receiver. The non-native English speaker does not have to focus on speaking the language correctly but can stay on message.

While in the above example we look at NLP helping bridge two languages, this could be extended for transcription and translation into multiple languages. There could be a larger meeting with participants speaking more than one language and the “Langbot” would seamlessly translate to the receiver’s preferred language.

This could also provide pathways for more frequent informal exchanges between global colleagues. And outside of work, the use by consumers as they travel to newer parts of the world would limit their lack of knowledge.

If the possibilities are endless, so are the challenges.

Tools like “Google Translate”, “Linguee”, and “Fluency Now,” are just a few which have made strides in translating text from one language to another, (Step 2 in the picture above). This still leaves us with Steps 1 and 3 (“Transcription”), which needs the Langbot to understand the language as spoken by humans and translate it to text. While “Google Home”, “Alexa”, “Siri” have made this more of a reality; we still have a significant ways to go.

While transcribing the message, the “Langbot” has to translate voice modulations that express anger, happiness, and excitement among others for this to be effective. It also needs to be able to take into account morphology, phonetics, phonology, etc.

Although there are more steps to take in order for this to be a reality, this is an area of AI where the impact on jobs could be lessened, but at the same time, the human experience can be vastly improved making the world more connected and making global companies truly more tight-knit.

Note: All thoughts expressed above are solely my own and do not reflect any sentiments of my past or current employers.

About the Author:

Sudha Solayappan is the Head of People Data and Analytics at Intuitive Surgical and a member of Humans For AI, a non-profit focused on building a more diverse workforce for the future leveraging AI technologies. Learn more about us and join us as we embark on this journey to make a difference!

 

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