Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat-The man described as the father of the internet, Vinton Cerf, has said that Arabic language content on the internet is far below the level of requirement, and confirmed his desire to provide better internet services to Arab language speakers in the region.
Google Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist Vinton Cerf told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we at Google strive to improve connection with Arabic language users in the region, and we are working to achieve this via two methods; firstly through clearing the way for Arab users to pose questions and initiate searches in Arabic, and secondly by providing an Arabic language version of all date and information. We rely upon automated translation software rather than the human element with regards to translation.”
However Google are also facing a number of problems with regards to providing these translations, and Cerf said “we are encountering a problem in the process of automated translations as this relies on statistical methodology, and this is via the collection and analysis of a large number of documents that contain translation data in order to obtain a more accurate translation in the end.”
However Cerf also revealed that a number of problems had been resolved with regards to this issue “enabling us to translate into the Arabic language, overcoming a number of stages that we were not able to achieve with regards to other languages, such as Korean for example.”
He added that “during my forthcoming visit to the [Middle East] region I will work to strengthen the capabilities of automated translation by looking for good and strong resources for Google Taareeb.”
Vinton Cerf was in Dubai to attend the “Google Arabia 2.0” forum which took place on Wednesday 10 February. Cerf addressed the audience that was comprised of Middle Eastern and North African [MENA] decision makers on the future of the internet and the areas of innovation in the emerging markets.
The Google Arabia 2.0 forum, which is aimed at executives and government officials, focused on defining future prospects and challenges facing the region and methods of stimulating innovation and development on Arab language internet content. As for the services provided by Google to the MENA region, Cerf said “the company attaches great importance to the services that it provides to users in the region and Arab users in particular. My personal concern for this issue is one of the reasons for my forthcoming visit to Dubai, and I will try to focus on the aspects of development and improvement that we can add to the services and information that we provide to the region.”
Google provides the “Google Taareeb” service which can be used to write emails in Arabic if an internet user does not possess an Arabic language keyboard, and for example should one wish to write an email in Arabic or post a comment on an Arabic language forum, one can simply phonetically transliterate the Arabic text in the English language.
It appears that the Arabic language is virtually absent from the international search engine, and Cerf said that “It is a widely known fact that the MENA region currently produces less than 1 percent of content online in Arabic.” Cerf said that he considered this to be “both a challenge and an opportunity for the region to take a leap of faith and embrace the benefits of the Internet.”
Cerf also described the internet as being “an amazing tool that encourages the free flow of information, the sharing of ideas, the ability to advance businesses across geographical borders and ultimately empower more individuals in their everyday lives.”
It seems that the Google search engine has become aware of the importance of the Arab region and the potential opportunities that are present there, according to Cerf, who said “as you know, in general the people in the Middle East rely heavily on mobile phones in obtaining information, which highlights the importance of accessing information via handheld devices on the move, as the phone in some cases becomes the means to connect you to the information that you require. Therefore we must develop this service in line with the region that it is used in, and this is what we are seeking to do.”
In Cerf’s opinion, developing the previously mentioned services for regional internet users “is important for a number of reasons, the first reason is in order to ensure that these services are viable and practical in the MENA region, and which will result in the further development of the company’s operations in the region.” Cerf added that “providing useful local information helps us to find new clients who may wish to display their ads through the various services that we offer in the region.”
Google’s efforts are not limited to providing appropriate services to users in the region, with respect to Google Taareeb and others, and in fact Google goes much further than this. For instance Google provides a special Arabic language interface for its search engine for users in the Arab world, providing different results then the English language version.
Vinton Cerf is known across the world, and he, along with his colleague Robert E. Khan helped to create the Internet Protocol Suite or TCP/IP. Khan and Cerf were awarded the highest civilian award in the US, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in recognition for their work which made it possible for data to be transmitted across the internet. This placed Khan and Cerf at the forefront of the digital revolution that transformed the face of global commerce, communication, and entertainment.
Founded in 1988 by Stanford University PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is now one of the largest internet companies in the world.