Opening up Possibilities for AI in Deaf Ministry: Part 1

By July 2, 2024

Int’l (MNN) – In almost every field, artificial intelligence (AI) is making an appearance. DOOR International says that the same is true in Deaf ministry.

With the visual nature of sign language, videos and pictures are major opportunities for AI integration. However, there are many technical aspects that could make those applications difficult to actually put into practice.

Scarcity and Complexity

Effective AI pulls material from a wide breadth of information to generate new content. Rob Myers with DOOR notes that this deep pocket of online information is not available for most sign languages.

In addition, he says translating written word to sign languages is a more complex challenge to ask of AI than from one written language to another. Myers states, “You also have this issue that the technical complexity  – just if you’re looking at raw computing power – sign languages are a lot more technically complex than written or spoken languages. Even if you just consider how many megabytes it takes to send a video through email versus a picture or a bunch of text through an email, obviously, a video is much, much more complex, much thicker in terms of the technology that’s required.”

(Image courtesy of DOOR International)

Opportunities in Translation

However, despite the limitations, AI could potentially aid Bible translation work for sign languages. For instance, rather than showing a real person on a video, AI could replace the features of the signer with an avatar. This would be a much safer option for Deaf Christians in countries where it is dangerous to show their faces.

“There have been various technologies that people have tried, in order to mask someone’s identity. There’s a project connected to Wycliffe, called Chameleon that uses special cameras and does real time avatar generation. So that’s one way that this has been dealt with. But another way that it’s being dealt with is a program through a partner organization that actually uses a technology that’s a little bit like deep fake.”

Myers says that DOOR has considered using AI to generate artwork that goes with Scripture translations. Previously DOOR commissioned individual Deaf artists for each piece of art. However, they may be able to generate more art if their artists are proofing and editing the art, rather than working from scratch.

However, with any application, AI-generated material for Deaf audiences must be meticulously proofed. Facial expressions, signs, backgrounds – everything in videos or artwork needs to show the proper tone and message. This is especially true on Scripture translations where accurate understanding and proper handling of the Word is crucial.

Challenges for DOOR

Myers says that with the additional proofing, people who want to get involved in the ministry need skills beyond the language and culture requirements typical of ministry work. Deaf ministry is very specialized and continues to become even more so with the meticulous proofing now required.

Please pray that DOOR would have wisdom in how to best use AI to further the Gospel. Click here, to get involved with DOOR’s ministry.

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