Breaking down language bias in computers

Schulich scholar aims to study AI

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This article was published 30/06/2021 (462 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Collège Miles Macdonell Collegiate’s third Schulich Leader scholarship winner intends to combine his passions for language and computer science to ensure more people around the world benefit from modern technology.
Jordon Hong will enter the University of Manitoba’s faculty of science this fall, armed with an $80,000 scholarship to study in the department of computer science. He specifically wants to study artificial intelligence (AI) as it can be applied to language.
His timing is excellent because AI is changing society. One sub-category of the field is natural language processing, which is concerned with programming computers to process and analyze large amounts of natural language data. Most systems are trained in either English or one of the few other dominant economic languages, Hong explained, and that can introduce bias into how the systems are originally programmed. Should that bias be present in the early stages of programming, the systems get really good at spreading that bias.
Hong said his interest in computer science began in middle school and he began taking courses in Grade 10. At the same time he also developed a deep interest in languages through podcasts. Following the advice to pursue something you both love and are good at, he discovered natural language processing.
“That’s perfect for me,” Hong said. “It’s what I like and what I am good at.”
AI can also be used to preserve languages which are fading into history and help record the many languages which do not have a written component, he added.
“It’s really exciting how we can use tech as a way of preserving cultural history that comes with language,” Hong said.
Hong said the application process for the scholarship began last December when he submitted an essay at school and then met with a teacher committee for an interview. After he became the school’s nominee Hong went through many of the same steps yet again.
When the May 18 deadline for announcing the winners came and went, Hong thought the opportunity had passed him by, but he received an email a week later that he didn’t know how to take.
“At first I was a little sceptical so I looked up the person’s name just to make sure it wasn’t some very elaborate email scam,” Hong said with a laugh. “Eventually I figured out this person was legit and I called them up… It was a relief  and very exciting to get the award.”
Hong first told his mother, who quickly spread the good news. His father came home from work to celebrate with them.
“They do so much for me and sacrifice a lot,” Hong said of his parents. “I’m incredibly grateful for them and everything they do. I’d really like to thank my teachers. I don’t know if anybody will ever find teachers who care more about what they teach and the students they teach than the ones at my school. 
“I can’t imagine what school would be like if I didn’t have the international baccalaureate program. It really did prepare me and helped me develop a lot of skills. It helped make me as good of a student as I am today.”
Hong will begin studying computer science with two good friends who have taken every computer science class with him.
“Charelle Constantino and Jaden Jenson…I’d like to thank them for sticking with me,” Hong said. 

Collège Miles Macdonell Collegiate’s third Schulich Leader scholarship winner intends to combine his passions for language and computer science to ensure more people around the world benefit from modern technology.

Jordon Hong will enter the University of Manitoba’s faculty of science this fall, armed with an $80,000 scholarship to study in the department of computer science. He specifically wants to study artificial intelligence (AI) as it can be applied to language.

Supplied photo Jordon Hong, who graduated this month from Collège Miles Macdonnell Collegiate and recently won an $80,000 Schulich Leader scholarship, intends to study artificial intelligence as it applies to language systems at the University of Manitoba.

His timing is excellent because AI is changing society. One sub-category of the field is natural language processing, which is concerned with programming computers to process and analyze large amounts of natural language data. Most systems are trained in either English or one of the few other dominant economic languages, Hong explained, and that can introduce bias into how the systems are originally programmed. Should that bias be present in the early stages of programming, the systems get really good at spreading that bias.

Hong said his interest in computer science began in middle school and he began taking courses in Grade 10. At the same time he also developed a deep interest in languages through podcasts. Following the advice to pursue something you both love and are good at, he discovered natural language processing.

“That’s perfect for me,” Hong said. “It’s what I like and what I am good at.”

AI can also be used to preserve languages which are fading into history and help record the many languages which do not have a written component, he added.

“It’s really exciting how we can use tech as a way of preserving cultural history that comes with language,” Hong said.

Hong said the application process for the scholarship began last December when he submitted an essay at school and then met with a teacher committee for an interview. After he became the school’s nominee Hong went through many of the same steps yet again.

When the May 18 deadline for announcing the winners came and went, Hong thought the opportunity had passed him by, but he received an email a week later that he didn’t know how to take.

“At first I was a little sceptical so I looked up the person’s name just to make sure it wasn’t some very elaborate email scam,” Hong said with a laugh. “Eventually I figured out this person was legit and I called them up… It was a relief and very exciting to get the award.”

Hong first told his mother, who quickly spread the good news. His father came home from work to celebrate with them.

“They do so much for me and sacrifice a lot,” Hong said of his parents. “I’m incredibly grateful for them and everything they do. I’d really like to thank my teachers. I don’t know if anybody will ever find teachers who care more about what they teach and the students they teach than the ones at my school. 

“I can’t imagine what school would be like if I didn’t have the international baccalaureate program. It really did prepare me and helped me develop a lot of skills. It helped make me as good of a student as I am today.”

Hong will begin studying computer science with two good friends who have taken every computer science class with him.

“Charelle Constantino and Jaden Jenson…I’d like to thank them for sticking with me,” Hong said. 

Tony Zerucha

Tony Zerucha
East Kildonan community correspondent

Tony Zerucha is a community correspondent for East Kildonan. Email him at tzerucha@gmail.com

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