Research: Covenant University partners OBTranslate 

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Lagos, April 17, 2023 – The Covenant University in Nigeria says it is partnering with OBTranslate in research and development activities in broad range of areas.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two parties covers Machine Translation (MT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and linguistics for OBTranslate scientists to further develop the “OBTranslate” machine translation and Generative AI platform. 

The partnership was announced through a joint statement issued on Sunday by the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Abiodun Adebayo, and the Founder/Chief Executive Officer of OpenBinacle Group, Mr. Emmanuel Gabriel, in Ota, Ogun State.

OBTranslate is a subsidiary of OpenBinacle Group.

It is a deep learning company that has developed an online CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) tool, Neural Machine Translation (NMT), and AI platform for over 2,000 African and European languages (“OBTranslate”).

It also aimed to bridge language barriers on the African continent and globally. 

The statement quoted Prof. Abiodun Adebayo, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, as saying that the “constructive partnership is a welcome development” as the institution, a world-class university, driven by a compelling vision of raising a new generation of leaders in all fields of human endeavors, is currently the best higher education destination in Africa and a reference point for its unique pedagogy, innovative curriculum, cutting-edge research engagements, community service emphasis, and administrative excellence.

Adebayo said the university’s departure philosophy and pillars are deeply rooted in Biblical principles and are directed towards effecting change in the recovery process of Nigeria’s education sector and the restoration of the dignity of the Blackman. 

“Covenant University is currently ranked among the best universities in the world in teaching, research and impact.

In the 2023 Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, the Covenant ranked 562 globally in research and was adjudged as Nigeria’s best research university. 

“It also ranked Top 400 globally in 2022 THE SDGs Impact Rankings and placed Top 200 globally in Emerging Economies Rankings in 2022 by Times Higher Education. Covenant became the first African University to win the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) Award in 9 Years under the Whole Systems Approach with her PET City Bricks Submission in 2021. 

“It was equally adjudged as Africa’s Best World Class Private Varsity of the Decade in Quality Education Award and received the United Nations Award as Climate Champion in 2022, among other validating awards that point to the research prowess of the University.

“Research has been central to Covenant University’s twin missions of offering solutions to critical societal problems and being a leading global educational institution.

These ambitions are intimately linked, and their innovations have benefited the country’s health, economy, and political processes and made Covenant increasingly prominent. 

“The University’s current feat as one of Africa’s leading research universities is made possible by its world-class faculty, staff, and postgraduate students who are immersed in innovative and cutting-edge research, including studies in bioinformatics, human genome research, cancer research, renewable energy, IOT-enabled smart and connected communities, biotechnology, as well as leadership, arts, humanities, social sciences, among others,” he said.

According to him, these research activities are coordinated under research clusters and centres of excellence superintended by the university’s Centre for Research, Innovation, and Discovery (CUCRID).

“The University is therefore excited by this partnership with OBTranslate and sees it as another opportunity for an impactful contribution towards expanding the frontier of knowledge in Africa.

“As part of its goals, OBTranslate will enable ‘free text’ and document translation, speaker devices, smartphones, and humanoid robots to understand African and European languages.

“With its major concentration in developing over 2,000 African languages to meet global standards, OBTranslate is set to explore the rich diversity that characterizes the linguistic landscape of the African continent.

“Nigeria, for instance, is a culturally endowed country with over 250 ethnic groups and 500 living languages.”

On his part, Gabriel said the long-term mission of OBTranslate is to identify each of these languages and provide natural language processing that will sustain and preserve our languages from extinction.

According to him, the goal of automatic translation of free-text and documents from foreign languages into African languages (or between any two languages) is one of the oldest pursuits of AI research at OBTranslate. 

“Our community of scientists is exploiting large datasets of translated and monolingual text to learn translation with statistical models, with a current focus on neural models,” the founder of the multinational technology company said.

Furthermore, he said, this collaboration is essential to OBTranslate AI research and the preservation of over 2,000 African languages spoken in all 55 countries in Africa. 

“Covenant University and researchers from other academic institutions from different backgrounds and areas of expertise can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to the table by collaborating across different fields and industries, researchers can build on each other’s work and make more significant breakthroughs,” he explained.

Gabriel said OBTranslate has built its MT and Generative AI models to learn translation with statistical models and a community-centered, humanistic, and interdisciplinary engagement that benefits all stakeholders, including diverse communities, creatives, and researchers in all 55 countries in Africa. 

“Academic institutions and the people of African descent will share a stake in OBTranslate established in each country in Africa, allowing its community of translators, researchers, mathematicians, software developers, and NLP experts to control the platform independently while training and modeling over 800 trillion language corpus datasets”. 

OBTranslate community of scientists, postgraduate students of Covenant University, and will foster the OBTranslate AI research, development, and innovation in Nigeria, develop further its machine translation and Generative AI-powered products and services, which can solve local problems and create new business opportunities in Africa and the rest of the world, he stated. 

Gabriel, the inventor of OBTranslate, said: “It is important to develop a clear ethical framework that guides the development and use of AI systems. 

“Our framework is based on core values such as non-discriminatory language data modeling, human safety, fairness, and transparency, and are developed in collaboration with diverse stakeholders including policymakers, industry experts, and civil society.”

He promised that “no language in Africa will be left behind”, pledging to raise an army of researchers, scientists, and linguists in Africa.

To promote inclusion and participation, OBTranslate and Covenant University will offer prospective students courses in AI, NLP, and linguistics, and provide open data for researchers and students at the university who are currently undertaking research or study in the areas of, AI, and linguistics to provide evidence-based research and analysis in their respective fields. 

He said that certificates would be awarded upon completion of the programmes, adding that the partnership deal provides internship opportunities for students who complete their programme and the chance to contribute to the corpus dataset of OBTranslate. 

Furthermore, the partnership would provide jobs to the graduands through the Hackathon selection process, train teachers with OBTranslate cutting-edge technologies to enable the proper dissemination of information to the students as well as proficiency evaluation tests to assess the performance of students and teachers at every phase of the programme. 

OBTranslate has evolved since its first inception in the Spring of 2019, leading us to the development of version 1.1.1 during the Summer of 2020, and is currently in its latest version (1.9.6), with major portions of code that are efficient and easy to maintain, said Gabriel.

“Presently, we are working towards version 2.5.0, which will denote major changes in the architecture, the components, and ‘neural models’.

“The new version is tailored to understand a larger dataset of languages on the universal free text and speech translator,” he said.

According to him, OBTranslate is aligned with the aspirations of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), the African Union, and six SDG goals for sustainable development.

The statement also provided and sites to learn more about OBTranslate. (GBN)

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