While machine translation from one foreign language to another has come a long way in the last decade, until recently, it hasn’t done two things well: It hasn’t been instant, and it hasn’t worked well for spoken language, since the results often sounded robotic. According to Microsoft (News - Alert), however, it has overcome these barriers.
The company recently demonstrated a software engine that can translate spoken language almost instantly, while preserving both the speaker’s intonation and rhythm.
This breakthrough will be particularly significant for the call center industry. With companies becoming more globalized than ever and call centers outsourcing to foreign nations becoming more widespread, the need for effective machine translation is great. Take, for example, a Spanish-speaking North American consumer contacting a call center in India, where Spanish skills are lacking. Another instance can be found in a customer calling a customer support center who speaks a language no agents have skills for – Russian, for example. In light of this, a workable, instant spoken language translation solution could be invaluable.
Microsoft’s new technology, developed in partnership with the University of Toronto, is expected to be introduced into Bing Translate. It was first demonstrated by Microsoft’s senior VP for Research Rick Rashid during a presentation in Tianjin, China in October. Rashid doesn’t speak Chinese, but thanks to the solution, he was able to address the audience with no problems. More importantly, the Chinese speech closely resembled Rashid’s voice.
In a recent blog post, Rashid said the technology works differently than other machine translation solutions. By using a technique called Deep Neural Networks, which is patterned after human brain behavior, researchers were able to train more discriminative and better speech recognizers than previous methods.
It’s likely that not far down the road, language will no longer become a limitation in contact centers. The applications beyond contact centers are vast as well: think of eliminating language barriers in sales presentations, video and audio conferencing and Web video.
According to the BBC, several technology companies, including AT&T, NTT Docomo and Google (News - Alert), are currently working on similar translation projects, the Web site TechWeekEurope is reporting.
You can see a demonstration of the technology here.
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