Feeds

Microsoft demos real-time English to Chinese translation

Digital babel fish comes closer

Build a business case: developing custom apps

In fiction Douglas Adams had his babel fish and Star Trek had the communicator, but Microsoft Research has been demoing an actual real-time English to Mandarin translation engine that works within seconds.

Microsoft's chief research officer Rick Rashid showed off the technology at the company's Asian 21st Century Computing conference last month, and has released a video showing the engine in operation. Within three seconds of him speaking in English, the system converted his voice into Mandarin and displayed a written Chinese translation.

The breakthrough that made this possible lies in a technique called deep neural networks, developed by Microsoft Research and the University of Toronto. The system takes English words, seeks a Chinese translation of them, and then matches those words to a recorded set of Chinese spoken words.

Current translation systems – even Microsoft's, Rashid explained – have error rates of around 25 per cent. The new system cuts this by over a third, taking errors from one word in four to one every seven or eight, which while not perfect, should avoid a hovercraft and eels situation.

"There's much work to be done in this area, but this technology is very promising and we hope in a few years we'll be able to break down the language barriers between people," he told the conference, while the systems translated. "Personally I believe this will lead to a better world."

There's certainly a crying need for translation systems between English speakers and residents of the Middle Kingdom – this looks to be the Chinese century and there's a real shortage of translators. Mandarin, Cantonese, and their many dialects are very difficult languages to learn for non-native speakers, since they require a tonal finesse seldom used in English and other languages. This system could be a godsend.

Judging from the applause, rather than polite giggles, from the Chinese speakers in the audience, the system works as advertised. If any Mandarin speakers notice a howler, or two please let us know. ®

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

More from The Register

next story
Whoah! How many Google Play apps want to read your texts?
Google's app permissions far too lax – security firm survey
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
Do YOU work at Microsoft? Um. Are you SURE about that?
Nokia and marketing types first to get the bullet, says report
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Big Blue Apple: IBM to sell iPads, iPhones to enterprises
iOS/2 gear loaded with apps for big biz ... uh oh BlackBerry
OpenWRT gets native IPv6 slurping in major refresh
Also faster init and a new packages system
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.