Closer to the Universal Translator

The video below is really worth a peek— I’ve cued it up to the 7’38” mark where the presenter is demonstrating a new breakthrough in voice-to-voice machine interpretation. If it piques your interest, you might want to watch it from the beginning.

To break it down: in real-time, the presenter is speaking in English (to a live audience in Tianjin, China) and voice-recognition software is converting his words into text; again, with little delay, the text is converted into standard Mandarin Chinese and then the computer is speaking his words in a voice that is actually attempting to emulate the presenter’s speech patterns.

How cool is that?  No wonder the audience is clapping— they’re thinking “HEY, I WANT one of those things!  (for the sake of clarity, the video was filmed in Tianjin, a city not too far from Beijing, in front of an audience of Mandarin-speakers).

demonstration of voice to voice machine interpretation (starting at 7’38” point of video for English-Mandarin demo)

As he says, the technology still needs work but we are indeed getting closer to the day when our gadgets are going to shatter the language barrier.

“So I won’t need to learn languages in the future?”

One could easily jump to the conclusion that the need for language learning will decrease in the future; after all, why bother if your phone is not only going to interpret words but mimic your voice?

Having said that, I’m still sticking to the comments I made earlier this year— in a world of ubiquitous machine translation/interpretation, language learning will definitely lose some of its lower-context, strictly ‘functional’ benefits. People will know that it’s not you doing the talking….. you simply can’t outsource the social capital that you earn when you make an effort to learn someone else’s language.

We’ll see, I guess.


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