Language translation has come a long way from the Yahoo! Babel Fish back in 1997 to the current scene where Artificial Intelligence is playing a major role. Language translation has in fact advanced so much so that now you can even have real-time translation performed. Yes, very much like the fictional Babel fish in the book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that would translate a language for you when put into your ear and no matter what the other person speaks in, you would hear the translated version.  Real-time translation is no longer fiction.

Google itself has launched products like the Pixel Buds, wireless earphones that have a feature of handling real-time language translation. This feature can translate a conversation between two people talking in different languages and that too in real-time. A further improvement of this technology was launched in January, 2019, called the Interpreter Mode. In fact, recently Google has also declared that this real-time translation is now available on all Google Assistant optimized headphones and Android phones.

How does real-time translation work?

The older versions of this technology would first convert the speech into text, and then translate it into the desired language. But with the use of AI, the process has been further improved upon. The present technology that is being used tries to translate speech much faster. The translation tool listens to a word and tries to identify the original language and at the same time understand what is being said. It analyzes the waveforms of the sound to identify those parts of the speech that seem to correspond to its translations. The tool then tries to translate the speech into what it thinks it should be in the destination language, in normal speech. 

This system uses a combination of different machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. It uses a pattern matching software that can identify sounds. Deep learning and neural networks are used to correctly predict what is being said and understand the context of a sentence or a word. And then encoders are used to process all the information. The tool also has access to a large database of common words, meanings and other information that it has learned from the analysis of millions of other documents in various languages, previously.

This real-time language translation technology currently has an efficiency of around 85% and the time taken for a translation is about 2 to 5 seconds, which is indeed commendable at this stage. Since these translation technologies depend on cloud based data, there is a lag between the speech and the translation. This will probably get better as the network speeds improve.

Who else is using it?

All the tech giants are constantly battling to develop new technology that no one else has ever experienced before. And same is the case of real-time language translation technologies too. Apple, iTRanslate and other companies already have real-time translation tools in their pipeline.

Microsoft is also trying to integrate real-time translation into many of its products. These products include Skype and PowerPoint as well, where real-time translation will be possible very soon. In fact, the Microsoft Translator is already being used by many for real-time translations worldwide. The Skype translator has been able to increase its use by nearly 400% in its very first year of availability.

It won’t be long before real-time language translation is available on all channels and across numerous platforms, including social media interactions and real-life conversations. Till then we can only wait with all eagerness.

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