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North Las Vegas is using AI to translate public meetings in real time

Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon
CommunityLocal Government

The North Las Vegas City Council became the first jurisdiction in Nevada to incorporate real-time transcribing and translating software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) for its public meetings, starting with a meeting last week. 

The city purchased Wordly to translate Spanish to English. According to the most recent census, 42 percent of the North Las Vegas population identified as Hispanic and almost 38 percent of people speak a language other than English at home.

It’s an effort by the city to be more accessible and involve more of the community in local government.

“This is what I think a government is supposed to be about — reaching out to the people and making government relevant to everybody you know,” said Councilman Isaac Barron in the meeting. “As a teacher and member of the community, I'm overjoyed.”

During public comment or in a presentation by a Spanish speaker, a translated transcription of the person’s words can be seen on large screens at the front of the room. Accuracy depends on the speed and clarity of the speaker, but the audience can also see how the AI technology will often try to fix the sentence and clean up words so it makes sense. 

Maria Navarrete, a member of Make The Road Nevada and North Las Vegas resident, thanked the council in Spanish, as the software translated her words. 

Nuestra comunidad diversa es el centro de esta ciudad. Y cada voz debe ser escuchada y entendida. (Our diverse community is the center of this city. And every voice must be heard and understood),” Navarrete said to the council members. “La tecnología de traducción es algo más que una comodidad, es una herramienta vital para gente como yo. (Translation technology is more than just a convenience, it's a vital tool for people like me.)”

Upon entering the council meeting, audience members can scan a QR code with a smartphone or tablet to access a link where they can see the real-time translation of what the speaker is saying. 

The system also works when watching the meeting from home by scanning the QR code found in the meeting agenda. Audience members can also use earphones to listen to the translation instead of reading it. 

Officials said during a council meeting last week that they expect to bring English to Tagalog translation by the end of the year. Barron said that Filipinos are the city’s “fourth largest growing group.” Wordly is equipped to interpret more than 30 languages.

“What I like about this is it's translating English to Spanish and Spanish to English and it's not missing a beat at all. We just have to get used to reading the screen over here,” City of North Las Vegas Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown said in the meeting.


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