Machine interpretation?

In  last month’s issue of  The Economist the article “Conquering Babel”  states that companies like Microsoft and MTT DOCOMO ( A Japanese mobile communications company) are now perfecting voice recognition software to translate speech and act as an interpreter in a conversation.  Although these  technologies have been around for some time; the interpreter facet of them has not. By using speech recognition it “translates” speech  and  with the use of headsets,  the other person would listen in. (This particular software is to translate phone calls) They all normally work in the consecutive mode, specifically question and answer and according to the article, the speakers have to speak slowly so as to capture and translate accurately.

The article continues that of these two companies, Microsoft seems to have an edge on this technology. In October, one Microsoft executive was able to use this technology to do a simultaneous interpretation  of  an entire conference in China by  speaking into the device and projecting the output not only verbally but onscreen using text. Well, judging by Monday’s  State of the Union Response ( video below) from Senator Marco Rubio  I beg to differ. Although the video is in Spanish, the translation to his speech appears in the bottom with a wonderful disclaimer that “This text may not be 100% accurate” Really?  (ABC’s version of the video). Furthermore, his speech  had  been written  prior to  the President’s speech (and judging by the transcribed version quite unrelated to Rubio’s speech itself and  the translated transcript, which used this voice recognition software, does not follow the material spoken but is nothing more than  incomprehensible  text. Therefore I do find it hard to believe that it will ever be a substitute for a human interpreter. The same way that I believe (as I have written in the past) that machine translation will never substitute a translator.  So here is the video and judge for yourself.

2 thoughts on “Machine interpretation?

  1. It seems like the Microsoft technology is in its beginning stages, what are your thoughts about years down the line when the technology is more perfected? Personally, I think there is a lot to be said about the quality of a human translator rather than MT, but some beg to differ. To be honest, I’ve found that the post-translation time and monetary cost of fixing MT errors outweigh the cost of human translation, and never really compare in quality.

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    1. MT and even even speech recognition software have been around for some time now (50 in the case of MT) that despite its improvements, still remains quite flawed therefore from a linguistic point of view, regardless the improvement, no computer will ever get the “gist” or the meaning of written or spoken word.

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