Travelling to any foreign destination often entails the concern of trying to communicate in a country where the lingua franca isn't English or for that matter any native tongue. Of course, while one can cobble together a couple of words, it's not quite the same thing as speaking a foreign language fluently and while universal translators may seem to be the stuff of science fiction or at best a handful of languages, a device that could translate a common tongue like say in English and in turn produce another language isn't as far off as one would think, as software giant Microsoft seems to have come up with such a software that does so, although it only functions between two languages.
Unveiled last month at a presentation given in Tianjin, China, the software is able to translate spoken English and in turn instantly produce spoken Chinese. The presentation, given by Microsoft research boss Rick Rashid, detailed how new software breakthroughs were able to ensure that the one to one translation has as little errors as possible and even ensure that the software accounts for intonation and cadence in both interpreting and translating so that the resultant Chinese spoken translation is as close to the original speaker as possible. Mr. Rashid revealed that the software is based on the brain's system of improving upon accuracy.
Mr. Rashid detailed the way in which Microsoft had achieved the level of sophistication of its translation software, saying that initially it rejected the use of pattern-matching techniques and instead used statistical models to better understand human speech. Then, in 2010, working alongside the University of Toronto, Microsoft was able to use neural networks to recognize and interpret sounds, similar to that of the brain.
When this technology was applied to the translation software, it cut down errors by some 15 percent, which added to faster computing speeds, which themselves cut down errors by 20-25 percent. It overall gave much reliable translation software, producing what Mr. Rashid describes as a "dramatic change." Of course, it was pointed out that the technology is not entirely perfect. Mr. Rashid explains, "Of course, there are still likely to be errors in both the English text and the translation into Chinese, and the results can sometimes be humorous. Still, the technology has developed to be quite useful."
In the presentation itself, Mr. Rashid was able to demonstrate the software, which interpreted his spoken English, translated it into Chinese and then produced the spoken version of it.