Real Life Universal Translator

Real Life Universal Translator


Ever tried to talk to a complete stranger, that does not speak your language? Imagine, if you could both use devices, allowing for your speech to be simultaneously translated to the other speaker. Such translators were used in numerous science fiction works. Their initial purpose was to save TV time.

Speaking to a foreigner and waiting for the translation to be done would consume a lot of time. So this is where such a fancy gadget comes in handy and explains how multiple cultures communicating instantly as if they speak one language on Start Trek. When characters on movies talked to aliens it took virtually no time to translate and the listener would hear the speech the moment it is said.

Real Universal translator in development

Such devices, although not instant, have already been invented and they are being improved every day. And they keep being perfected for the ultimate goal – real Universal translator, inspired by Science Fiction. Speech recognition software and devices exist for quite some time, but they are not perfect and they can’t translate your speech into another language fast enough. The software giant Microsoft went for the challenge to invent a real life universal translator.

At the 14th annual Computing in the 21st Century Conference, Tianjin, China Richard Rashid presented the company’s new product features. The device or the app analysed Rashid’s speech as he went through the presentation and displayed it in the form of text on the big screen in a matter of 2-3 minutes. The most impressive part was, at the end of the presentation when the speaker’s words were shown on another screen in Chinese symbols altogether with automated Chinese robotic voice. Just like a computer form the sci-fi movies or Professor Hawking’s device.

You can view the presentation here:

This technology is far from perfect, but still the results are impressive. Since this device is supposed to read different voices of different people, that pronounce words with different intonation, the recognition is sometimes hard and there always are errors and misunderstood parts of the speech. Acording to Rick Rashid, 1 out of 8 words are rendered incorrect by the machine, but still this is big improvement, compared to earlier versions, where this rate was 30% larger.

Future refinement

One of the toughest challenges is to make computers properly understand human speech. To achieve a real, instant Universal translator in the future the scientists, engineers and inventors need to learn more about our brains – the most complicated things we know of and the way they work.

Understanding that natural and complex bio-machine, would help develop the perfect bridge between a person, a machine and another person, speaking foreign language. In the near future the possibility of almost completely replacing human interpreters with machines is very real. But first, humans must manually build the database, machines are going to use.

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