AILO fosters next generation of Irish computational linguists


1 Feb 2012

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Some 700 Irish students will this week explore the languages of the world as the 2012 edition of the Centre for Next Generation Localisation’s All-Ireland Linguistics Olympiad (AILO) gets under way.

The competition challenges secondary school students to apply logic and computational thinking to solve complex puzzles in unfamiliar languages. In solving the problems, students learn about computational linguistics.

A record 60 secondary schools across Ireland will host qualifying rounds of the competition this week, with the top 100 performers going on to compete at the national finals at Dublin City University (DCU) in March. The winners there will win the opportunity to represent Ireland at the International Linguistics Olympiad in Slovenia in July 2012.

What is computational linguistics?

Computational linguistics is the science of understanding language using logic and computer algorithms. It is pervasive in our lives – examples include Apple’s Siri voice-recognition system and the Google Translate machine-translation engine. The All Ireland Linguistics Olympiad aims to introduce student to this field – in which Ireland excels – and to encourage them to pursue careers at the intersection of language, linguistics and computing.

“AILO challenges students to engage in ‘code-breaking’ to understand unfamiliar languages such as Faroese or the Sioux language Lakhota,” explains Cara Greene, Education and Outreach manager at CNGL.

“The budding linguists analyse the patterns in a small amount of linguistic data and work out how the underlying system works. No prior knowledge of linguistics or foreign languages is required; instead the students must use logic and reasoning skills to solve the complex puzzles.”

Now in its fourth year, AILO has already attracted more than 650 participants from schools in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A further 700 students are participating in the 2012 season.

“AILO has really captured the imagination of students and teachers alike,” says Greene. “We are now starting to see past participants go on to pursue studies in computational linguistics at third level, which suggests that the competition is meeting its goal of fostering the next generation of Irish computational linguists.”

AILO is a key element of the Education and Outreach programme of the Centre for Next Generation Localisation, a €40m academia-industry consortium funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and 10 industry partners. For competition updates, and to try out the puzzles for yourself, visit the website.

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