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Imagine a time in which we are no longer lost in translation. With the current pace of technological innovation, this might be the future we can look forward to in a few years. Avid travelers no longer have difficulties ordering food in restaurants nor make the mistake of walking into the wrong gender’s bathroom, as they can use apps that can provide instant visual translation. By pointing their phone’s camera at a sign, apps such as WayGo and Word Lens will instantaneously translate it.

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For those who don’t want to be bogged down by hand-held devices, they can opt to wear a pair of smart glasses and enjoy the convenience of instant translation right before their eyes. Japanese telecom giant NTT Docomo is currently developing this wearable device for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo where tourists can use it to easily navigate their way around the city.

The future of real-time translation:

The latest translation technology does not only grasp translation in textual forms but also aims at decoding verbal conversations. This feature is already available in apps such as Google Translate and Apple’s Heart to Heart.  Both apps can translate spoken words in real time, enabling communication between those who don’t share a common spoken language.

What is often likened to the Universal Translator gadget in Star Trek and the most futuristic tool of them all is Skype Translator. Seeking to enable instant verbal communication between people of different languages, Skype Translator is built on a “Machine Learning platform” which is the capability of software learning from training data examples. By analyzing resources such as translated web pages and recorded verbal conversations, the software can learn each language and translate the diversity of topics, accents and language variation of users. Combining speech recognition (SR) and machine translation (MT), Skype Translator aims to be a game changer for communications, revolutionizing the way we communicate across the globe.

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The Challenges:

With machine translations becoming ever-more advanced, one can’t help but wonder whether technology will ever replace human translators entirely at some point. Experts in the translation and localization industry, however, believe that human interpreters are indispensable .When it comes to sensitive data and the importance of accuracy, technology should be seen as a tool to assist humans in keeping up with the surging demand for high-quality translation.

There are however obviously many challenges to the aims of the translation technological industry. Language changes all the time and there are huge differences between the way in which people speak and the way they write a language. Spoken conversation is often filled with pauses, repeated things, filler words such as ”um,” ”ah” and so forth. Thus it is hard for the speech recognition to fulfill a completely adequate job.

To reach the highest level of accuracy, intelligent machines have to not only translate each word into a new language, but also analyze entire phrases for context and infer their meaning before offering up a translation—the way a human interpreter does. It sounds almost impossible, and the translation technology has not reached that level of accuracy yet. The Conversation Mode by Google Translate, for example, has weaknesses that would often create awkward situations. Not being able to sufficiently grasp accents, dialects or slang of the language, the conversations need to be slow and rather basic with simple phrases. Background noises can also hinder the speech recognition engine’s ability to properly transcribe what was said.

But if, or should we say when, technology is finally able to overcome these challenges it will erase language barriers for good – at least if you have the device on you.

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