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Microsoft Research working on Star Trek-like Universal Translator Technology

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Microsoft Research is now working on taking speech-recognition to new heights, forget current technologies like SIRI. This is a language translating technology that takes real speech and translates it on the fly. Even cooler, it can actually “speak” what you are saying into a different language as well.

This Star Trek-esque universal translator is far from a commercial project and will likely not make its way into any real product for decades, maybe longer. Still, that’s not the point. As you watch the video, you’ll see that the text translation of everything the Microsoft Researcher says tags along (a little slowly) afterward. Is it a perfect voice recognition system yet? No. For the most part, the English-to-English text on the board was pretty close 70% or higher. That’s not bad considering he was just talking like normal.

We might have these kind of technologies available commercially right now, but we often have to baby them and talk to them like “a computer” instead of a more natural flow like you’d have when talking to another person.

The big “WOW” factor comes when he starts speaking and the software starts translating it into Chinese. Not only was it equally as quick at recognizing the spoken words, but it provided the option to “speak” the Chinese translation back to the audience and in a similar style and sound to the speaker’s own voice.

We have a long way to go on such technologies, but the implications are huge.

Are there some downsides to the idea, too? Sure. For one thing, such technology arguably makes us lazier. Most of us that are going to a foreign country for a visit at least attempt to learn local phrases in order to help us get by and get where we need to go without looking like a fool. Learning a little culture, etiquette and language is just part of the experience.

If such a technology offered perfect translations, many travelers might take the “Why Bother?” approach. When it comes to culture, customs, currency– we’d have our smartphones there to fetch what we need to know right then as well. Nonetheless, this is really cool. What do you think of the translator technology? Are we still decades off from such tech really being useful?

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