We often liken new technology like machine learning. Voice and facial recognition apps and software with the terminator style cyborg tanks crushing our old cultures and ways into the dust.

This can be true. Many sayings, words and colloquialisms have moved on or changed up with the adaption of technology. However, a new app brings some hope on keeping languages, traditions and cultures alive and thriving in 2019 and beyond.

An example of tech enabling the cultivation of culture and language is a sweet app called ‘Kupu’.

Kupu uses two Google technologies (Cloud Vision and Cloud Translation) to keep the language of te reo Māori alive and well.

Well, Cloud Vision is an Application Programming Interface (commonly referred to as API) that uses machine learning to identify objects within a photograph. This is coupled with Cloud Translation API, which uses neural machine translation “dark magic” to dynamically translate the identified objects in an image into te reo Māori.

The Kupu app was created for Te Wiki o te reo Māori (Māori Language Week) 2018 as a way of exploring the indigenous language of New Zealand in real-time on real objects one word at a time. The genius being every Kiwi has a pocket and a phone … except our Head of Design Vaughan, he frowns on button-less phones.

The best way to have an interest in a language is to break it into small chunks and make it relevant to whatever is around the user. A phone app utilising the phone camera was the obvious choice. It’s also easy to quantify the results via downloads, and easy to adopt and learn for the user.

After the first two weeks, Kupu (the te reo Māori translation of ‘word’) had more than 120,000 downloads, two million image translations and more than 2.5 million audio plays (word pronunciations). For a goal of 16,000 downloads and a population of 4.7 million, that’s pretty impressive.

This is just a little taste of future thinking tech – pairing with the learning of an indigenous language by bringing a modern, practical evolution to learning old ways and traditions.

I would love to see this echoed here in Australia, where 90% of our indigenous languages are considered endangered. More than 250 Indigenous Australian languages, including 800 dialectal varieties, were spoken on the continent at the time of European settlement in 1788.

There’s now only 13 traditional Indigenous languages still acquired by children, and approximately another 100 or so are spoken to various degrees by older generations, with many of these languages at risk as Elders pass away. What a perfect solution to carry these languages and dialects into the future!

Get the Kupu app