Microsoft Developing Instant Speech Translator

Can you imagine traveling to China and speaking to people in fluent Mandarin with no prior knowledge of the language? According to software giant Microsoft, this could soon be a reality.

The Microsoft research team is currently developing and refining speech translation software that is capable of translating speech instantly. The technology imitates the intonation and cadence of

the speaker, delivering more real and natural-sounding translations.

In a recent video presentation, Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer, Rick Rashid, demonstrated how their translation technology converts spoken English into Mandarin – in real time and in the speaker’s own voice. Watch the demo here.

Although today there are a number of translation technologies that deal with human speech recognition, Microsoft wants to go a step further and perfect past breakthroughs.

Working with scientists from the University of Toronto, Microsoft has been able to slash translation errors

from 20-25% down to 15% thanks to a technique called Deep Neural Networks. With this technique, which is modeled on how the human brain works, the researchers were “able to train more discriminative and better speech recognizers than previous methods.”

While the technology is still not perfect, Rashid calls the improvement a “dramatic change” and believes that “in a few years we will have systems that can completely break down language barriers…we may not have to wait until the 22nd century for a usable equivalent of Star Trek’s universal translator.”




Hear the Hands: Gloves Translate Sign Language into Speech

“Eloquence is the power to translate a truth into language perfectly intelligible to the person to whom you speak.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks to four young Ukrainian masterminds, those of us who don’t know sign language will now be able to understand and communicate with the speech and hearing impaired, which affect about 40 million people around the world.

Taking first place at this year’s Microsoft Imagine Cup competition in Sidney, the Ukrainian students presented their hi-tech prototype: gloves that translate sign language into speech.

How it works

Called Enable Talk , the prototype gloves have 15 built-in flex sensors, a micro-controller, and solar cells to extend battery life. The gloves register the wearer’s hand movements, which are transmitted to the micro-controller on the back of the glove. The controller then analyses and translates the motion into text. The text data is then sent via Bluetooth to a text-to-speech engine connected to a mobile device, which translates the text into speech.

With Enable Talk users will be able to program their own hand gestures and even modify the standard ones included in the system – a great feature considering sign language, like spoken language, can vary significantly around the world.

This device is not the first of its kind; there are several similar projects

under development, but they fall short

of the technology offered by

Enable Talk and are far more costly, at about US$1200. The Ukrainian team foresee a retail price of US$400 for a pair of gloves.