Universal Translator Becomes Science Fact

One of the biggest tropes for sci-fi is the concept of the universal translator. A universal translator bypasses all sorts of possible complications with communication, keeping the story from being hijacked by questions about a language barrier. I don’t know if the term was created by Gene Roddenberry, but Star Trek certainly helped spread its use.

Now, AT&T is bringing the universal translator to an app store near you. Well, OK, maybe it isn’t quite universal yet. For now, the AT&T Translator is capable of seven languages. Thus far the app supports English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. It seems reasonable to assume that if the app catches on that more languages will eventually be added.

AT&T Translator

Basics of the AT&T Translator. Courtesy of AT&T.

The app was developed at AT&T Research Labs, using AT&T Watson and AT&T Natural Voices speech technologies. Usage is simple. Speak a phrase into your device and the Translator converts what you’ve said into the language of your choice before broadcasting it to listeners.

I can easily think of a number of applications for the Translator without even straining my noggin. Business teleconferences could be handled without requiring a third-party translator, tourists could more easily navigate foreign countries and military units operating in the field could actually talk to the locals without having to shepherd a translator.

Anyone who has ever used Babblefish might be leery of the accuracy of the translator, but, according to AT&T, the app uses multiple recognition programs to ensure your question about parking doesn’t accidentally become a profanity laden insult. Redundant recognition programs also analyze each new sentence for context, rather than relying on earlier conversations, which helps avoid a single error at the beginning of a conversation from being automatically included for the duration.

From the AT&T website:

 Accuracy is also dependent on having a large, complete corpus, and for this the AT&T translation technology depends on statistical methods to extract acoustic, lexical, and translation knowledge from traditional sources—large datasets and existing corpora—as well as nontraditional ones, such as data mining of web pages and their different language versions. This allows the system to be continually and automatically enlarged to cover more domains (health, hotel, entertainment, among others) and keep current with new words and expressions.

AT&T Translator is available from iTunes and Google Play.

Below you’ll find a short video that demonstrates the app at work.

Source: AT&T Labs

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2 Responses to Universal Translator Becomes Science Fact

  • I’ll be interested in learning more about the accuracy of this software. I’m sure that it can only handle very simple translations and will require years of research and development before it can be used in more technical and scientific fields.

  • Gabriel says:

    It seems as if after the battle of the search giants (Bing, Yahoo, and Google) and mobile operating systems (Android, Windows Phone, and iOS), what’s next in line is the battle of the speech recognition and translator programs (Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Microsoft Translator, Google Translate, and Siri, to a certain extent). If will be interesting where this is heading, and if they ever become really useful for the average user.

 

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