Issue No. 6

2023 Year-End Extravanganza!

Readers, thank you so much for your support and interest in TechNews.Bible this year. What began as a small idea in May is now a budding community with over 150 members! The level of participation is beyond what I expected.

The last quarter of 2023 has been filled with conferences, travel, and unfortunately, seasonal illnesses. To make up for the lack of content in the last few months, I present the TechNews.Bible year-end extravaganza. Please join me in gratitude for all the exciting work happening at the intersection of Bible Translation and technology. May the end of your year be filled with joy and celebration.

A wintery embodiment of a Bible Translation technologists' workspace.
Image generated by Dall-E 3.

But first, what is TechNews.Bible?

TechNews.Bible is intended to be a community resource that enables Bible Translation technologists to discover, learn, share, and collaborate. Read about the backstory and intentions of the newsletter here.

∴ News

Paratext 9.4 Released!
Plenty of new features and quality-of-life improvements are officially released in Paratext 9.4. Helpful walkthrough videos are available for many of the changes. Some highlights include video support for Enhanced Resources, Scripture Burrito Import/Export support, and Biblical Terms Lists Import/Export.

The Bible Well is the first consuming application of the Bible Aquifer project. Developed by the good folks at BiblioNexus, the Bible Well currently provides tools for Oral Bible Translation teams. Users have access to translation guides from SRV which are integrated with a growing number of openly licensed resources that are being translated into many strategic languages. Well-optimized for mobile devices, the app itself is free and open. You can try out the app yourself.

Platform.Bible Demo
Platform.Bible is an electron-based application built for extensibility. I'm very excited about what the future has in store for the collaborative potential of tools like Platform.Bible. This video provides an overview and demonstration that helps technologists understand what to expect in the coming year.

ETEN Innovation Lab Substack
Launched earlier this year, the Innovation Lab has continued to produce content that helps technologists and innovators better understand the domain of Bible Translation. The latest episode of Tech and Testament covers some of the latest AI news while Innovation Brief 4: The Impact includes encouraging stories from the field. The public sharing of knowledge demonstrated here is exactly the type of communication I'm championing with this newsletter. Many thanks to the Innovation Lab team!

∴ On the Radar

Paper.Bible is a free app for typesetting and preparing Bibles for printing. It has options for things like including various passages, entire books, headings, copyright information, and paper size. For translations made available in the app, Paper.Bible is a no-code solution for generating PDFs. From Gracious.Tech.

Biblos: Bible Exploration with Vector Search and Summarization Biblos provides a web interface that allows users to search the Biblical corpus, read relevant results, and then consult an LLM for a summary of the result. It's interesting to see more and more experiments combining embeddings, vectorization, RAG, LLMs, and Scriptural texts. Explore the implementation on GitHub. See the discussion on Hacker News.

USFM Grammar Online
USFM (Unified Standard Format Markers) is far and away the most common markup language for Scripture text in our domain. This handy tool is a publicly available USFM parser and validator. I've found it very useful for quickly checking the contents of USFM that I'm working with to find validation errors early (and in some cases, often 😲). Three cheers for free, public, useful utilities like this!

Awesome Lists
These curated awesome lists are great for general awareness and helpful for onboarding new team members. See awesome-bible-nlp, awesome-bible-developer-resources, and awesome-bible-data.
This awesome website showcases data visualizations, infographics, and illustrated diagrams that inspire people to know God more fully. Bible Cross References is one of my favorites. Also, take a look at the app. From Robert Rouse.

AI + Research

This is how Transformers Work
When the seminal paper Attention Is All You Need was released in 2017, transformer models truly opened up the adjacent possible in NLP and AI. This is an incredibly well-done visual storytelling presentation of the Transformer model that does not require specialist knowledge. I love the convergence of design and communication found in this resource. From the Visual and Data Journalism Team at The Financial Times.

Visualize how an LLM Works
Like the example above, this is another excellent specimen of the visual storytelling genre. The content here is more specialized and technical, but just as helpful. From Brendan Bycroft.

SimAlign: High Quality Word Alignments without Parallel Training Data using Static and Contextualized Embeddings
This paper explores generating word alignments using a technique that does not require parallel training data. As you may know, word alignments have some useful applications in Bible Translation. Statistical methods are most commonly used, but in some cases, the work outlined outperformed known statistical approaches.

BONUS #1 :: BT Conference 2023

I had the privilege of attending BT Conf in person this year. For me, it's one of the best events a technologist could attend to better understand the domain of Bible translation -- both in fundamentals and trends. Below are some of my highlights from the conference.

Quality in Translation: A Multi-Threaded Fabric
This ebook includes a series of papers organized by the Nida Institute. Many of these papers were presented during the BT Conference. The overall focus of the collection is quality and there is more than one paper relevant to TechNews.Bible readers such as Artificial Intelligence Tools as Quality Assessment Copilots and Lost in Translation: Navigating the Intersection of Humanity and Technology in Bible Translation. Overall, this collection is beneficial in clarifying and expanding relevant domain knowledge.

Blast from the Past, Talk by Edgar Ebojo.
This may have been the most inspiring talk I heard at the 2023 BT Conference. The talk beautifully exposited the conference theme (Quality) via ancient scribal traditions while situating the task of Bible translation in the very old tradition of preserving and communicating these sacred texts. As a technologist working in the domain, I found this to be informative, humbling, and inspiring all at the same time.
A growing set of resources for Oral Bible Translation, including a new audio translation in English!

BONUS #2 :: ETEN Summit 2023 Announcements

Exciting news from the 2023 ETEN Summit. On the final day, leaders from four Bible Translation organizations announced the free and open releases of critical important resources. There was excitement and joy at the radical generosity modeled in the room during these announcements. Below is some information about the resources released.

SIL Translators Notes
SIL announced the release of Translator's Notes -- a verse-by-verse commentary geared specifically for local Bible translators authored by experienced translation consultants. (Public Link forthcoming)

A Variety of Resources from UBS CC-BY-SA
United Bible Societies announced they are releasing a host of resources useful for Bible Translators:

  • UBS Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew
  • UBS Dictionary of the Greek New Testament
  • Web Image Collection from Project MARBLE
  • Bible Routes from Project MARBLE
  • UBS Paratext Parallel Passages Database
  • Preliminary and Interim Report for the Hebrew Old Testament Text Project (HOTTP)

OBT tool Render to be released as open source
Faith Comes By Hearing announced that they intend to release their OBT drafting tool, Render, under an open license.

Biblica Chinese Contemporary Bible CC-BY-SA
Biblica announced the release of its Chinese Contemporary Bible under an open license.

BONUS #3 :: Long-form content comes to TechNews.Bible

In 2024, TechNews.Bible will be experimenting with longer-form content. This newsletter will continue to be a place for helpful links and summaries. If you have ideas for longer-form content or would like to contribute, I would be delighted for you to contact me.

And just like that, 2023 is a wrap! See you in 2024.