If you've ever wanted to speak another language, but don't like all the studying, practice and hard work that goes with learning one, this invention could be for you.
Microsoft has just demoed a new translation software, co-created with scientists from the University of Toronto.
The software listens to a user's voice, then almost instantly translates what that speaker is saying into another language.
Not only that, it uses the speaker's own intonations and speech patterns in the new language, so it sounds like the user is actually speaking.
The head of Microsoft research Rick Rashid gave a presentation about the technology, finishing up with a demo in which his words were translated into Chinese.
Check out the video (the demonstration starts at around 7:30):
The new translation tool is possible thanks to advances in computer technology, as well as a new approach to writing the software. Speedier hardware lets the system crunch the data faster, but it was a 2010 discovery that really led to a breakthrough.
Before that, translation software used pattern recognition to figure out what people were saying.
But Microsoft researchers and those U of T scientists improved the system by using deep neural networks that work like the human brain to identify sounds.
As shown by Rashid, the software first converts English speech into text, then rearranges the word order so it makes sense in Chinese. Then, it translates it and uses the speaker's speech patterns to turn it into audio.
"Of course, there are still likely to be errors in both the English text and the translation into Chinese, and the results can sometimes be humorous," Mr. Rashid said in a blog post. "Still, the technology has developed to be quite useful."
No kidding: imagine an international business meeting in multiple languages without the need for a translator. Or the possibilities of meeting and communicating with people from other cultures, even if you don't speak the same language.
As he says in his speech, Rashid hopes "in a few years, we'll be able to break down the communication barriers between people." He goes on, "personally, I think this is going to lead to a better world."
Microsoft isn't the only one working on instant translation technology. A little while back, Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo introduced a similar technology for their cell phone users. Both Google and AT&T are working on their own versions, as well.