Google doesn’t have the right technology to deliver on promises made in 2017 to improve Maori pronunciation in Google Maps. Video / Te Ao Maori News
Originally posted by Maori television
Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Maori Language Commission) told Te Ao with Moana this week that Google doesn’t have the right technology to deliver on promises made in a 2017 campaign to improve pronunciation Maori in the Google Maps app.
As part of Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori (Maori Language Week) that year, Te Taura Whiri, Vodafone and Google launched the “Say It Tika” campaign, which called on New Zealanders to pin the names of mispronounced Maori places on an online map.
Over 67,000 corrections were submitted to the website within two weeks, and later that year Vodafone and Google received special recognition at the 14th Māori Language Awards for the campaign.
But according to Te Taura Whiri managing director Ngahiwi Apanui, Google was unable to complete its part of the project.
Te reo Māori technology missing
Apanui said that some time after the campaign ended, he received a message from Vodafone saying that Google had not honored its end of the bargain because it did not have the right technology to solve the problem.
“They were trying to use an English vocal platform to reproduce the sounds in te reo Māori, and it couldn’t work,” Apanui said.
Voice platforms are an essential component of artificial intelligence products, such as Google Maps and Siri. They can perform tasks such as recognizing the words someone says and transcribing them into text, or vice versa.
Apanui said the voice platform that was missing in the Say It Tika project was one that recognized te reo Māori.
“Our hypothesis was that they [Google] were going to work to develop a Maori language platform or a platform that would work for Polynesian languages,” he said.
“But without that kind of technology, it was never really going to work.”
Teaching Computers to Speak Maori
While a te reo Māori speech platform did not exist in 2017, since then an organization called Te Hiku Media has been hard at work developing a suite of Māori language speech recognition tools.
Using data taken from iwi radio archives, Te Hiku Media has succeeded in creating different types of voice platform software – for example, its Māori voice recognition software works with an 86% success rate.
Te Hiku Media managing director Peter-Lucas Jones said that while the intentions of the Say It Tika campaign were admirable, the technical aspect of the project should have involved Maori with the appropriate expertise.
“You can’t just say it tika… you have to do it tika too, and to do it tika means working with the Maori who work in that space,” he said.
Jones said Google hasn’t asked him to help complete the Say It Tika project yet, but he’s definitely open to working with the organization.
“If they were to approach us, we would be happy to work with them,” he said.
“But we also have Maori principles and Maori values that we engage with organizations…so if we were to work with global companies, or anyone for that matter, we have to work on our terms.”
Improvements have been made but there is still work to be done
Google said improvements have been made to the pronunciation of Maori place names on Google Maps since the Say It Tika campaign.
However, the organization acknowledged that there was still work to be done and apologized for this.
Google did not respond to questions about whether it would work with Te Hiku Media to complete the Say It Tika project, but pointed to other work being done to support the Maori language, such as the launch of Google Search in te reo and Maori place guarantee. names were spelled correctly on google maps with macrons.