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Monday, October 22, 2018

How Blockchain will Revolutionize the Language Services Industry: The LIC Solution

This is a guest post by  Dr. Peggy Peng, CEO, and  Founder of the LIC Foundation describing her vision for blockchain in the translation industry and providing an initial overview on the blockchain initiative that she is leading. I saw her present the overall vision of  LIC in some detail at the TAUS conference, and I thought it would be interesting to hear from a proponent of the technology who believed enough in the technology to fund it herself.

From those who are enthusiastic about blockchain, I hear the refrain that it is a way to build a trusted network and reduce the control of oligarchies which rule almost every high-transaction-volume industry in the world today. Thus we could eliminate very low-value middlemen in a system e.g. the need for lawyers and title insurance agencies in a real estate transaction for example. However, this means that no central authority exists or develops in this new world, and the system is truly independent of controlling forces. However, I repeatedly see systems that try to utilize a blockchain but retain some form of centralized control and are thus ruining the most attractive feature of the technology by doing so.

This is a still a technology that has players who use lots of smoke and mirrors from much of what I have seen outside of the translation industry, and so we should tread with care. Everybody involved in blockchain seems to be trying to raise money. The dot-com boom and bust also had, to some extent similar characteristics, with promises of transformation and very little proof that anything that was clearly better than existing solutions. I feel the problem description of the LIC initiative is clear in this overview but I am still unclear on what exactly is the solution. I would like to see examples of a few or many transactions executed through this blockchain to see how it is different and better before, I cast any final judgment. While most failed in the dot-com boom-bust cycle there were some great successes and so I expect this will be similar, the initial signal to noise is very low but for those who look carefully there is value. But I am already at a point where I feel that it will include more substance than a description of an ICO and a distributed ledger. I think it should present clearly discernible value to interested parties. I think the key will be a true collaboration network which is mutually beneficial to all the key stakeholders in some mostly incorruptible structure that will be mostly immune to future domination by monopolistic forces. These may or may not involve tokens or ICOs, and quite likely will have some kind of distributed ledger, I expect.

But honestly, I am still looking for a real example that makes sense at the common sense level and does not require faith in a crypto future and is not filled techno-jargon that obfuscates and distracts from fundamental questions. I have seen that many who talk about "using AI" today have a very vague and nebulous definition of what this means. This lack of definition of the specific use case is a very clear clue of cluelessness. The most successful applications of machine learning (AI) are around very clearly defined problems and data. This is necessary for successful outcomes.  I expect that the first examples of blockchain will come from use cases that remove marginal intermediaries like in the real estate scenario I described above.  The most successful examples of blockchain reported today are focused on very narrow and specific challenges where the benefits can be clearly explained to those concerned without requiring you to go to the Blockchain School for Morons.

As I mentioned in my last post, which was a skeptical view of the role blockchain may have in the industry, I am hoping to post more varied opinions on this subject. There are already some interesting comments on the first post which support the skepticism of the overall post. I hope that other proponents of blockchain will also join the dialogue.

And, I wish to make it clear that if the LIC Foundation solves the problems we have tolerated for decades in a way that is clear to all who engage in the system, I wish them the greatest success. But it will probably not be necessary as it will be adopted because it makes sense.


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2017 has been the Year of the Blockchain but the language service industry has largely been spared the onslaught of blockchain startups claiming to shake up the industry. Even the advances in AI and machine learning has so far not been able to replace the need for translators. 

A lot of criticism of blockchain centers around the crypto-currency variants whose value seems suspect and speculative in a somewhat non-rational way.  

However, having spent five years with the top management of Transn, China’s largest translation company with 30,000 translators, I understand that blockchain presents a historic opportunity to solve some of this industry’s long-standing problems.  

The Problems in the Language Service Industry


Here are some of the problems that have long permeated the industry; customers cannot get language services anytime, anywhere, from any device. They also have no way of determining the quality of the translated material.

Meanwhile, translators lack the network to access jobs themselves and are therefore dependent on translation companies to provide jobs. Translators also do not have a means of ranking their capabilities so that they can be screened for jobs that match their level of competency. In many cases, they are grouped together with low-level translators to do the same low-level work and are paid the same remuneration as lesser skilled translators. 
This fragmented nature of the industry creates a bigger problem for the players. The lack of shared knowledge between competing translation companies means there is a dearth of data to be mined. As a result, the big data of the industry cannot be mined. 

This is where blockchain offers a solution.

 

What is Blockchain?


A blockchain is a decentralized, incorruptible digital ledger that records any type of transactions and allows information to be distributed without being duplicated.

Imagine if your team is working on the same Google Docs sheet and everyone is updating the sheet at different times from different places. All the changes are tracked and updated without needing to create duplicate versions of the sheet.

Blockchain works in the same way. Data is not stored in one single location which means data is not centralized. Instead, data is hosted on millions of computers simultaneously so that there is no one party in control of all the information and all parties can make changes to the asset without creating duplicate versions of it.

Our current centralized model means users congregate digitally on centralized platforms (such as Airbnb, eBay, and Facebook) to use a service and conduct transactions. We have to create a username and password to log in to a digital service provider, store all our information there and hope nobody finds out our password. This system is highly vulnerable to attackers. If your account is hacked, all your information is exposed. The blockchain may store data across its network, but the data is encrypted. Blockchain technology offers an almost hack-proof way to store information.


Also, in our current centralized model, all our data is owned by the service providers that store our data. We have seen many cases of abuse where service providers use our data to sell tailored solutions to advertisers and prying governments. Even if they do not sell our data, they may unintentionally expose our data to nefarious parties. In the decentralized model where data is stored across our network of computers, we own our own data.



With the Internet currently, any digital asset can be copied and illegally distributed, which created many IP problems for content creators. Blockchain technology is the backbone for a new kind of Internet, where digital information can be distributed but not copied.


How Blockchain Solves the Language Service Industry Problems


The nature of blockchain’s encrypted, decentralized model means that data stored are permanent and cannot be tampered. The blockchain records every single transaction that the user makes. This creates a more credible way of tracing a user’s history, therefore increasing trust for the translator’s ability and capability. 

The permanency and the incorruptibility of the blockchain also offer another benefit. Any asset created and modified on the blockchain can be traced back to the parties who added a modification to the asset. This is useful in tracking and identifying the original and co-creators of the digital assets. This is also groundbreaking for translators as they will be able to record their digital assets and then be fairly compensated for future use of their assets.

 

How Does Blockchain Serve Its Community


LIC Foundation’s blockchain only serves as the underlying infrastructure to power all kinds of activities. It is similar to a power grid. Energy is processed through the power distribution network to supply electricity to appliances for the end user. Similarly, LIC Foundation’s blockchain will be the infrastructure where AI and human translators power the blockchain network to supply solutions to the end user.

 Another way of looking at it is if you view the Internet as the current infrastructure on which all websites and apps are built on, then blockchain is the future infrastructure. The blockchain is widely expected to be the standard infrastructure in the coming years, powering most digital businesses.
 In 1994 when the World Wide Web Consortium was formed and Netscape was the go-to web browser, only several thousand websites existed worldwide. We are at that point with blockchain, where several thousand blockchain startups have been founded in the past year.

And just as the Internet paved the way for developers to create all kinds of web apps and mobile apps, so too on the LIC blockchain, developers will be able to create new DAPPs (decentralized applications) to serve the needs of the language service industry. Apps can be anything from translation marketplaces to crowdsourced movie subtitling. This massive crowdsourcing will allow people to read websites in their language, watch videos dubbed in their language and have audio translated in real time.

The LIC Ecosystem

Some of these kinds of service are already available on the Internet but none allows the contributors to be recognized and rewarded for their effort and because they are mostly centralized, no one web service has seen wide-scale adoption.

Because blockchain can reach the globe, over time, I expect LIC’s public chain to be one of the biggest digital ecosystems for the language services industry that will power the information exchange globally.

About Dr. Peggy Peng : 


Dr. Peggy Peng holds a Ph.D. in Education from Huazhong University of Science & Technology. She was a C-level executive at Transn, China’s biggest translation company, for five years. Prior to that, she was the Academic Director of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Deputy Director of Nanyang Technology University. She is a Council Member of the Singapore Blockchain Technology Foundation.




About LIC Foundation : 

LIC Foundation is a non-profit organisation formed to create the world’s first public blockchain for the language service industry. LIC Foundation’s blockchain development is led by AI expert, Dr. Li Qinghua, who holds a Masters in Artificial Intelligence from the National Taiwan University and a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence from Tsinghua University. Dr. Li developed the world’s first palmtop share trading system in 1999 and the first online gaming platform and messenger software that can support more than 10,000 users in China. LIC Foundation was incepted in mid-2018 in Singapore and plans to launch its blockchain mid-2019.

LIC Foundation’s advisory board : 

Zhiyong Sun: Executive Director of Blockchain & Digital Currency Laboratory and Adjunct Professor at the centre for Law & Economics at China University of Political Science & Law
Hingbing Zhu: Chairman of Singapore Blockchain Technology Foundation
ChenDan Feng: President of Singapore Translation Association
Henry He: Founder and CEO of Transn and Vice President of Translator’s Assc of China
Christopher Djaouani: Executive Director at Donnelley Language Solutions, now part of the world’s third largest translation service provider: SDL Plc.
 

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