Petro Orynycz on Lemko-Speaking Artificial Intelligence

This is the official English translation of an interview originally conduced in Lemko and Rusyn and published by Naša Gazeta [Our Gazette], a Rusyn-language publication. It first appeared in the Telegram channel of tech blog InterФийса, whose name is a play on words between English “interface” and Rusyn fyjsa, meaning “axe”.

We’ve all probably used a translation service at least once, and you’ve surely heard of the most popular one, Google Translate. Such programs are no simple software gizmos, they’re entire systems infused with data structures, texts, and words. They’re worked on by more than a few people.

Have you ever seen a single program able to contend with translating into any other language from Rusyn? It’s a sure bet you haven’t. However, the day we see one could come soon. Please find below an interview with Petro Orynycz, a dude who’s programming the linguistic corpus and algorithms to create such a tool—a translation program that will know Lemko, as well as contend with translating texts from English into Lemko, and vice versa.

A corpus of over 70,000 words has already been readied to train a special artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, as has a basic chatbot that can even reply when asked questions, a kind of electronic “conversation partner”. The translation program will be based on that algorithm.


Tell us briefly how it came to be that you live in the States but can speak Lemko? You don’t encounter that often.
To make a long story short, I’m a Lemko who graduated from college in Cracow (Poland), but was born abroad in America, like Andy Warhol—Pittsburgh, Subcarpathia, and Medzilaborce represent!
How long have you been programming? Why do you like that line of work?
I’ve been programming off and on since the nineties and love it because I like the idea that you can automate knowledge work by eliminating its more monotonous aspects in order to bring value to society.
How did the idea of creating a Lemko chatbot come about?
One Saturday, it occurred to me to modify the Lemko-English neural machine translation (NMT) engine I was working on to respond to Lemko input in Lemko instead of in English.
What was the aim of the project, and where is it heading?
In a word, the aim of the project is language revitalization. What’s next? You enter entire sentences and get accurate, grammatically correct translations into Lemko. Everyone who knows Polish, Czech, or English will not only be able to read, but will also be able to write in our language using my software.
For a few years, there has been this idea that soon nobody will need professional translation, since AI will do it automatically. How do you see it? Is that far from the truth?
For most people, that’s not only not far from the truth, that’s already the case. Artificial intelligence can already do the work of less experienced human translators. Already now, human translators are only called upon for special, high-value projects. Is it worth it to call in a human translator to make some off-the-cuff Facebook comments in Russian or English? Probably not, unless you’re running a troll brigade. Is it worth paying a couple thousand dollars to have a multimillion dollar contract or outreach campaign professionally translated? You bet.
Since you say that this AI will be so slick that it will give us entire sentences in Lemko, how are you going to prove to us that you’re writing us on your own, and not using AI to translate from English?
There’s no way to prove it. I work for the Google Translate project. In this industry, sometimes who catch fraudsters who use artificial intelligence to falsely claim to be Russian linguists. Have you seen the movie Blade Runner? The best scene in the movie is when Harrison Ford interviews a young lady to check if she’s human and not artificial intelligence. Alright, Myhal’, have I passed your Voight-Kampff test? Am I human, or a Rusyn robot?
I’ll feel a lot better thinking we’re both human 🙂

UNESCO reports that up to half of the languages spoken today could disappear and be lost by the end of the century. We have a total of about 6,000 languages in the world. Languages with few speakers and without institutional support are mainly the ones under threat. The work Petro is doing gives us motivation and faith that Rusyn won’t be on that list.

Myhal’ Kušnyćkŷj conducted this exclusive interview for InterFyisa—the blog for tech and everything related.