Universal Translation Devices Coming Closer to Reality

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov @Flickr

Scientists have once again taken their lead from popular science fiction culture for the development of their latest piece of technology. This time the goal is Star Trek’s universal translator, a device which can translate any language. There are already many translation applications for various devices, including computers and phones, though they are not quite universal in their ability to get the job done.

Most of these technologies require that those conversing take turns speaking in a single device, only work for a select number of languages, or relate the translated speech in an emotionless, robot-like voice. Microsoft is hoping to change that soon.

Microsoft’s latest invention, when completed, will solve the above problems, creating a truly universal translating device. They are reportedly close to having the device done, prompting a recent demonstration of its capabilities.


Frank Soong, research scientist for Microsoft, has been working on the project for some time now at the company’s research center in Beijing, China. During the demonstration, he showed how the device can read Spanish, as well as its ability to translate English into Mandarin.

All this is done while retaining, for the most part, the voice of the speaker, including tonal inflections and other patterns of speech which are integral to proper communication. So far, the Microsoft translator works with 28 different languages.

Though Microsoft may be ahead in the race to develop this new technology, they are not the only ones working to get it done. AT&T has their own version in the works, though theirs is focused on improving the voice-recognition and translation of computer applications.

Whether speaking directly to another person or talking across the net, universal translators will change the perception of foreign language as a barrier to communication.

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Category: Science

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