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Japan e-book distributor Media Do to build 'AI translator'

Company hopes to win overseas readers as its home market shrinks

TOKYO -- Japanese electronic book distributor Media Do will develop an artificial intelligence-based automatic translation system to make its e-books available for English-speaking readers.

The company hopes to reach a broader market and promote digitization at a time when Japan's book market is shrinking.

Media Do has teamed up with two Tokyo-based AI startups for the project -- Internet Research Institute and A.I. Squared. Media Do will invest about 1.1 billion yen ($9.82 million) to acquire about 20% of each company through a third-party share allotment at the end of this month.

Both startups have developed unique technology for summarizing and translating text. The summarization technology analyzes the relationships between words and sentences in a given piece of text and extracts key sentences to create a summary.

The translation technology "learns" set phrases in both Japanese and English -- on top of vocabulary and grammar -- to enhance the quality of its translations, a process known as deep learning.

As an initial step, Media Do will offer an automatic summarization service for users of its e-bookstore, to be set up by the end of the year. The service will provide Japanese-language summaries of e-books within the number of words selected by the user.

Next year, the company will add an automatic translation service that converts the Japanese summaries into English. It hopes the services will attract foreign readers looking for Japanese books and increase overseas traffic to its website. Within the next few years, it aims to provide quick, full translations of its e-books using AI.

Media Do believes that selling Japanese e-books in English directly to English-speaking readers will help expand Japan's e-book market.

The company says the new technology will be cheaper and faster than conventional translation services, in which a person converts the text sentence by sentence. Media Do expects the service to be useful in selling Japanese-language business and academic e-books to foreign readers.

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