Universal communication unhindered by language differences is still a distant dream, but Microsoft’s Translating! Telephone, exhibited at this week’s Silicon Valley TechFair, brings it a little closer to reality. This VoIP program combines three Microsoft technologies–speech recognition, translation, and text to speech–to create a speech to speech and text to speech translator that’s surprisingly accurate.
The translator, which automatically trains itself to recognize your voice, is approximately 80% accurate. But in the translation demo we watched between a native English speaker and a native German speaker, the system was accurate enough to be almost entirely understandable–and that was with two people speaking quickly in a crowded room.
Microsoft’s translator also solves a big issue in translation technology: How do you know if your speech is being translated correctly? The answer is the automatic retranslation feature (i.e. English to German to English). The whole system is so effective that two Microsoft programmers speaking different languages were able to debug software together while locked in separate rooms.
The Translating! Telephone technology could already easily run on an average PC, but a cell phone version is a ways off, simply because it would suck up too much battery life. Still, we could picture this technology making conference calls and live video chats between colleagues in different countries much, much easier.