Over at the Google research blog, researchers describe the new system Google Translate uses to deal with translation queries (there’s also a link to a longer paper with more detail).
A new translation system has been required due to the scale at which Google Translate operates – it now supports more than 100 languages and translates more than 140 billion words every day.
The “zero-shot” aspect of the development means that the system can generate translations from language A to language C without it having to be prompted with examples of translations between these languages. Previously, it first translated from language A to language B, and then from language B to language C, where A-B and B-C had known qualities.
The researchers also consider whether the success of the zero-shot system means that it is learning an “interlingua” – “a common representation in which sentences with the same meaning are represented in similar ways regardless of language.”