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Microsoft launches te reo translator as Nadella touches down in NZ

Microsoft launches te reo translator as Nadella touches down in NZ

Microsoft CEO talks about efforts to ease the shortage of skilled developers by democratising development

Satya Nadella speaking in Auckland.

Satya Nadella speaking in Auckland.

Credit: Supplied

Te reo Māori is now included in the Microsoft Translator application, enabling instant text translations to and from more than 60 languages.

The Māori language will be available to more people around the world through the use of advanced machine learning translation technology, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, announced via his blog on Friday.

“To focus only on shaping the future ignores the value of the past, as well as our responsibility to preserve and celebrate the te reo Māori heritage," Smith said. "Which is why we are proud to announce the inclusion of te reo Māori in our free Microsoft Translator app.”

The free translator software will be widely available on computers or smart devices, enabling people around the world to instantly translate text and documents into te reo Māori and vice versa, as well as the many other languages supported by the app such as Spanish and Chinese.

The announcement came as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was making a rare visit to New Zealand, speaking at Microsoft's Envision Forum at an Eden Park venue in Auckland (listen in full below).

Nadella said the "intelligent cloud" and especially the "intelligent edge" were available to everyone to drive organisations forward and empower people within organisations to serve business outcomes.

With computing embedded in the world and every device, computing power had to migrate to the edge, he said.

We were seeing the development of a "multi-cloud, multi-edge world" with new tools that enabled the development of cloud native applications. 

This was enabled by a limitless data estate of limitless scale, allowing analysis of structured and unstructured data via Microsoft's new Azure Synapse, Nadella said.

The goals was to allow every institution to build their own AIs with Microsoft tools and frameworks.

Every company was a digital company and every company was a software company, Nadella said. However that created its own challenges.

As well as providing a wrap of recent Microsoft developments, Nadella spoke about efforts to address a growing developer skill shortage. 

Microsoft research showed 72 per cent of developer vacancies in New Zealand were outside the the tech sector, among user organisations. Globally this crossover occurred in 2017, Nadella said.

By 2023 there would be 500 million more applications and many would not be built by developers. New tools on the Microsoft platform, such as Power Automate, aimed to allow anyone who could use an Excel spreadsheet to develop apps.

Microsoft was building tools to "democratise" development, he said, and to enable developers within organisations to do their best work and build velocity.

New Zealand insurer IAG, for instance, had over 300 developers using Microsoft's GitHub to collaborate.

Microsoft's chief environmental officer, Lucas Joppa, followed Nadella to announce a grant to the National Insitute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) for a project that, he said, could quite literally be world-changing.

NIWA is suing AI tools to recognise and digitise a century or more of hand-written weather observations, starting with a week in 1939 when it snowed from Stewart Island to Cape Reinga.

“This project will bring inanimate weather data to life in a way everyone can understand, something that’s more vital than ever in an age of such climate uncertainty," Joppa said.

“I believe technology has a huge role to play in shining a light on these types of issues, and grantees such as NIWA are providing the solutions that we get really excited about.”

On the te reo app, Anne Taylor, education lead at Microsoft New Zealand, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for 1 million new te reo Māori speakers by 2040. 

"We’re determined to support this goal, and including te reo Māori in Microsoft Translator is one more action we can take to help make the language accessible to as many people as possible,” Taylor said.

The translation model employed for te reo Māori will use Microsoft’s AI technology, which will allow the accuracy of the translations to be continually updated and refined.

Te Taka Keegan, senior lecturer in Computer Science at Waikato University, said the development of the tool would not have been possible without many people working towards a common goal over many years. 

"I’m delighted to finally see this project come to life and not only support the everyday use of te reo Māori in our schools and workplaces here in Aotearoa, but help scholars, researchers and ordinary people access and study the language around the world.”

The project was part of a broader programme of work to support indigenous languages and culture worldwide, said Smith in his announcement.

“When a community loses a language, it loses its connection to the past – and part of its present. It loses a piece of its identity. As we think about protecting this heritage and the importance of preserving language, we believe that new technology can help,” he said.


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