With more and more businesses operating internationally and consisting of teams spread far and wide across the world, dealing with language barriers can be a real issue.
During meetings, conference calls or presentations for example, it’s extremely easy for important details to get lost in translation if people are having to work in their second – or maybe even third – language.
However, Microsoft has taken a big step towards solving the problem with an update to its Translator app which leverages machine learning to enable the real time translation of conversations for up to 100 speakers using their own smartphone, tablet, or PC.
Developed by Microsoft’s machine translation group at its research lab in Washington, the feature builds on on the same speech translation technology that is used in Skype Translator and – by leveraging mobile devices – meets the face-to-face needs that had previously been lacking.
“To get started, a user signs on to the service via the app or website, picks their language and initiates a new conversation,” explains John Roach on the Microsoft blog. “The process generates a code and a QR code that other participants enter or scan on their devices, which they set to their language of choice. From there, conversation happens.
“The speaker presses the keyboard space bar or an on-screen button in walkie-talkie-like fashion when talking. Seconds later, translated text of their spoken words appears on the screen of the other participants’ devices – in their native languages. For some languages, audible translation is also available.”
The translations are powered by deep neural networks running in the cloud, with machine learning capabilities able to offer more “human-sounding” translations that are easier for users to understand and follow during a conversation.
“At the end of the day, our goal is breaking the language barrier,” said Olivier Fontana, director of product strategy for Microsoft Translator. “ls the quality perfect? No. Is the setup totally seamless? No. But really, once you get set up, you have a universal translator experience amongst multiple people talking in multiple languages.”
Leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies has been a growing focus for Microsoft in 2016. As well as positioning AI well and truly at the centre of its digital transformation vision, the company also recently announced a partnership with non-profit organisation OpenAI and created an investment fund specifically targeted at AI startups.
How much do you know about Microsoft? Take our quiz and find out