Translation Industry News | 09.03.2010

Microsoft unveils telephone capable of real-time translation

The Translating! Telephone: an innovative blend of automatic speech recognition and machine translation; packed with text-to-speech and intelligent voice-recognition software; enhanced with a back translation tool and topped with archive and search facilities – this is not just automatic translation, this is Microsoft automatic translation! Described as a tantalizing glimpse into the future of real-time multilingual communication, this new language tool was certainly the item du jour for linguists at TechFest 2010.

TechFest is an annual event where developers from Microsoft Research facilities across the world meet to discuss innovative projects in progress and The Translating! Telephone hails from the Speech Group at Microsoft Research Asia (MSR Asia). However, researches have stressed that this project is still in its development stage and it could be a decade before it becomes ready for commercial use. Nevertheless, it has been mooted as a solution to language barriers in business and social environments where gist translations are preferable to no translation at all – not as a substitute for professional translators.

Microsoft’s research website explains how the tool combines three key technologies: speech recognition, machine translation and text-to-speech software. It is unclear as to which languages would be supported down the line, but the demo was carried out in German and English. Users connected by a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) are able to speak in their native (or chosen) language which is recognised by automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology, transformed via automated translation and synthesised using text-to-speech.

Touted as a step towards unified communications, it certainly boasts some impressive features. Firstly, the inputted source language is almost simultaneously translated and output via audio format in the other user’s target language. Secondly, all speech is transcribed for verification, archiving and retrieval purposes and what is more, underneath this transcription is a back translation feature which appears as a table at the bottom of the screen – thus enabling users to check if the translation process is performing correctly. Finally, the transcription benefits from being ‘storable, browsable, searchable’ and cut-and-paste-able! As it is an intelligent piece of software, it is said that the translation quality will increase as the system learns the user’s voice.

It may well be a decade before The Translating! Telephone is market ready but with the combination of voice-generating software, automatic translation and a user-friendly interface, it looks set to become a staple of international offices in the not to distant future.

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