Problem solving with ICT – the language barrier solved?

At the Cambridge and Oxford Colleges IT Conference I talked about the future of technology, and what the world will look like when today’s new secondary school students arrive in the workplace. I’ve used our Productivity Future Vision video, and then discussed the technology and ideas behind the scenarios, including looking at some of the work going on in research labs around the world that contribute to our views of what the world will look like in a decade.

In the first ten seconds of the video, it shows two students, on different continents, talking and having their words translated in real-time. But this was a “vision” of how the world might look in ten years’ time. Ahd technological change is moving faster than I imagined. Take a look at the video below (or use this link) which shows a project underway in the Microsoft Research labs. Two users, one phone call, two languages – and a simultaneous live translation.

If you look carefully, it’s obviously not foolproof yet, but as this is a very early prototype, its astonishing in its current accuracy. Having watched my daughter use web translation tools to help her with her Spanish homework, I can’t imagine what she’s going to do with this kind of technology.

As for me, I’m hoping that it will help translate from “Call Centre English” to “English English”, and also from “American English” to “English English” (especially if it can also automatically translate meanings – like when a US colleague talks about his new pants).

There’s an interesting article on the TechFest 2010 event (which is where this was shown) with much more about the Translating! Telephone project.

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