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More must be done to ensure Siri and Alexa are available in Welsh, Senedd told

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MORE must be done to ensure virtual assistants such as Siri and Alexa are available through the medium of Welsh, the Senedd heard.

Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister for the Welsh language, raised concerns about the accessibility of Siri, Apple’s digital assistant, in particular.

She said it has been seven years since her Plaid Cymru colleague Llyr Gruffydd failed to get a response when communicating with Siri in Welsh in the Senedd’s chamber, or Siambr.

During a 2017 debate, Mr Gruffydd asked his smartphone: “Who is the first minister of Wales?” and “Hey, Siri, do you understand Welsh?”

Siri responded: “Sorry, I can’t search that,” and “I rather enjoy what I’m doing now.”

Ms Fychan warned: “Unfortunately I think if you spoke to Siri in Welsh now, the same thing would be the outcome.

“It doesn’t always understand me when I try to speak English to it, because of my accent.

“There is great work to be done to ensure that that range of technology that is part of our daily lives is available.”

Plaid Cymru MS Heledd Fychan
Plaid Cymru MS Heledd Fychan

‘Linguistic banking’

Jeremy Miles raised the importance of linguistic banking as he gave a statement about a report on the 2018-2024 Welsh language technology action plan on February 20.

The education and Welsh language minister said: “We’re not yet in a position to be able to do that. 

“To develop that kind of technology we need a significant range of linguistic data, and developers in the area are expecting dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of hours of data before they can create that kind of technology.

“At the moment, we have about 200 hours of relevant data in the Welsh language.

“That’s a very familiar story for minority languages, internationally.

“It is a challenge, and that’s why we’ve prioritised linguistic banking and, in the end, that will allow us to make sure that that happens.”

Education minister Jeremy Miles
Education minister Jeremy Miles

‘Laudable’

Mr Miles highlighted a Welsh Government-funded project at Bangor University which transcribes Welsh into typed text and can generate subtitles automatically. 

He said the university has partnered with Open AI – the company behind ChatGPT – to improve how its most powerful chatbot, GPT-4, processes the Welsh language.

Samuel Kurtz, the Tories’ shadow minister, said embracing technology can make the targets of a million Welsh speakers and doubling daily use of the language by 2050 realisable.

Conservative MS Samuel Kurtz speaking in the Senedd
Conservative MS Samuel Kurtz

Welcoming progress, he said: “The fact that the action plan recognises that technology is a priority area in terms of securing a place for the Welsh language in our lives is laudable.”

Mr Kurtz highlighted that SaySomethinginWelsh has created a free short course to help people learn the Welsh national anthem in four lessons, using an app. 

He called for improved free digital checkers for spelling, grammar and mutations in Welsh.

‘Open source’

Alun Davies, a Labour backbencher, who represents Blaenau Gwent, was eager to know when he will be able to communicate with Alexa and Siri through the medium of Welsh.

Labour MS Alun Davies
Labour MS Alun Davies

The former minister said while the operating system on his iPhone is almost all available through Welsh, he has to turn to English when using apps.

Mr Davies called for a focus on open-source technologies rather than technologies that are closed or restricted in terms of licensing.

Mr Miles agreed about the need to foster a culture of open innovation, saying work with Open AI offers an opportunity to improve access to apps through Welsh in future.

On Alexa and Siri, Mr Miles cautioned: “The next challenge, and we’re already working on it, is to create hundreds of thousands of data.

“We have quite a long journey before we reach that destination, just because of the size of the Welsh language compared to the languages that are used more.”

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Cornerstone 4G phone mast unconditionally backed

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A NEAR 70-foot-high 4G telecommunications tower scheme in north Pembrokeshire has been unconditionally backed by county planners.

Applicant Cornerstone sought what – in planning terms – is called prior approval for the installation of a 21-metre lattice tower supporting three antennas and associated works on land at Castle Farm Villa, Llanreithan, Hayscastle.

A report for planners says the radio base station “would allow a shared rural network in this rural area of Hayscastle for two of the main operators, to provide 4G connection, which would provide a reliable and fast communications services; to facilitate significantly improved connectivity for residents, businesses and visitors to locality.”

The application was supported by local community council Brawdy.

Cornerstone, in a supporting statement, says: “To keep up with growing demand from mobile phone users we need to upgrade existing base stations or build new base stations. An upgrade can be done in a number of ways, often by redeveloping the site to enable an increase in the number of technologies, or increasing the number or height of the antennas. However, even after these upgrades, in some busy areas the demand for services can still exceed the capability of the local base stations.”

It adds: “We recognise that the growth in mobile communication has led, in some cases, to public concern about perceived health effects of mobile technology, in particular about siting masts close to local communities.

“Quite naturally, the public seeks reassurance that masts are not in any way harmful or dangerous.   We are committed to providing the latest independent peer-reviewed research findings, information, advice and guidance from national and international agencies on radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields.

“Cornerstone ensure that our radio base stations are designed and built so that the public are not exposed to radio frequency fields above the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).  In fact, radio base stations operate at low power and emit levels of radiofrequency fields many times lower than the ICNIRP general public guidelines.”

An officer report says a site visit was carried out to assess the impact of the proposed development, considering that the siting and design of the mast and associated structures would be acceptable.

“As such, the prior approval of the local planning authority is not required,” the report concluded.

Recent plans by Cornerstone for a 20-metre-high, timber-clad telecoms tower on land opposite the National Trust car park at Trehilyn West, Trefasser, near Goodwick, were turned down by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park planners.

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Pembrokeshire stands against Israeli apartheid and Genocide

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PALESTINE solidarity groups in Pembrokeshire and West Wales are mobilising for a powerful protest in Haverfordwest, Castle Square, this Saturday 20th April at 2pm. They aim to vehemently condemn the relentless Israeli onslaught on Gaza and send a clear message to the UK government and local MPs Simon Hart and Stephen Crabb: End the complicity now! We demand an immediate ceasefire and an end to arms sales that fuel this brutal oppression.

The Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic, refers to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli forces, following the forcible displacement of 750,000 Palestinians (almost half the population) in 1947-49 in order to establish the state of Israel. Israel’s current assault on Gaza is an escalation of the ongoing Nakba and threatens to be the largest mass expulsion of Palestinians since 1948. The international community has an immediate responsibility to intervene to stop Israel’s ethnic cleansing today. Any delay in implementing practical measures constitutes complicity and/or participation in the ongoing Nakba.

This rally is a collective outcry against the crimes perpetrated by Israel and a rallying cry for the boycott of Israeli products.

“It’s sickeningly hypocritical that Israel strikes nations and communities first, claims victimhood when faced with resistance, and then receives unwavering support from the U.S., the UK, and Germany!” lamented one protester.

“For too long, the international community has turned a blind eye to Israel’s flagrant violations of human rights, granting it impunity while innocent lives are lost.”

“Six months of relentless violence. Six months of Israel slaughtering innocent Palestinians. Six months of Israel killing over 14,000 children! That’s an average of around 76 children a day and what has our government done? Profited from arms sales, turning a blind eye to the bloodshed,” remarked another protester.

This protest is a clarion call to all who stand for justice: It’s time to disrupt the status quo and challenge our complicit government. “We will never give up,” declared a participant. “To dismantle apartheid, we must disrupt the everyday and refuse to be complicit in Israel’s crimes against humanity!”

Join us at Castle Square at 2pm this Saturday to lend your voice to the 2 million people who suffer from a forced famine and brutal occupation in Gaza. Together, we will demand justice, accountability, and an immediate end to the bloodshed, the genocide and ethnic cleansing.

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Dragon LNG ‘monitoring’ scrap car blaze in Waterston

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A BLAZE has broken out at the Waterston Car Dismantler’s business in Waterston, Milford Haven.

Dragon LNG which is situated near the site said that the fire was not related to their operation and confirmed that the that emergency services were at the scene.

Residents living nearby have been advised to keep windows and doors closed whilst the incident is being dealt with.

“We are aware of a fire in Waterston with the emergency services present,” said a spokesperson for Dragon LNG.

“The incident is not related to Dragon LNG and Dragon Energy. We are monitoring the situation and are co-ordinating with the emergency services.”

A spokesperson for Mid & West Wales Fire & Rescue Service told The Herald: “At 11.09am on Monday, April 15th, the Milford Haven, Pembroke Dock, Narberth, Fishguard, Carmarthen, Tenby and Haverfordwest crews were called to an incident at a commercial premises in the Waterston Industrial Estate, Milford Haven.

“Crews responded to approximately 150 vehicles on fire, at the height of the incident, 12 fire appliances were in attendance.  Crews utilised six breathing apparatus sets, nine hose reel jets, two ground monitors and approximately 1,000 litres of foam to extinguish the fire.

“Properties in close proximity to the fire were evacuated and nearby roads were closed.  The incident required a multi-agency response, with Dyfed-Powys Police, the Ambulance Service and the Local Authority also in attendance.

“Crews began to leave the scene at 2.11pm.

“Please be advised that as a precaution:

“If you are in an area still affected by smoke, you are advised to stay indoors, close windows and doors, and turn off any air conditioning or ventilation units.

“Motorists who must travel through areas still affected by smoke should keep windows closed, turn off air conditioning and keep air vents closed.”

(Images: M Cavaney/Herald)

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