Microsoft Meets Star Trek With Universal Translator

Cloud-based software learns to translate documents from one language to any of the world's approximately 7,000 other languages, Microsoft says.

By Paul McDougall  InformationWeek
March 13, 2012 11:00 AM

Taking a page from Star Trek lore, Microsoft said it has developed a system that automatically translates speech in one language to any other language. The software giant said that, among other things, its Translator Hub could help multinational businesses operate more efficiently and economically.

"Microsoft Translator Hub is free and easy to use--you need not be a linguist or machine translation expert," the company said, after showing off the technology last week at its TechFest 2012 event on its Redmond, Wash. campus.

Translator Hub relies on a translation engine that resides on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, and input from users. Users start the process by feeding paired documents into the engine that have been already translated from, say, English to French. After processing the translation examples, the engine would learn to translate from English to French own its own, automatically.

Because the service is based on initial user input, it can be tuned to work with any language. "Automated language translation has been dominated by a few major providers, resulting in coverage that is limited to fewer than 100 languages--even though there are more than 7,000 languages in the world," said Microsoft.

"Speakers of these other languages must adopt non-indigenous languages to be able to access the global knowledge base--or they risk being excluded from the vast wealth of information it offers," the company said.

Beyond broad language translation, the system can be fine-tuned to translate terms that are commonly used in specific industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing, and finance. Translations can also be used across various social media platforms.

Also at TechFest, Microsoft demonstrated a system called Monolingual TTS. It allows users to speak into a device in any of 26 pre-installed languages and have their speech read back in another language.
The notion of a universal translator first gained popularity in the television series Star Trek, in which Enterprise crewmembers were able to communicate with aliens through a small, handheld device that provided two-way translation.

While it probably doesn't know Klingon, Microsoft Translator Hub can be used free of charge in the cloud.


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