By Khurram Aziz | Nov 14, 2012 12:38 PM EST
Microsoft has taken us one step closer to the world of Star Trek after demoing a universal language translator which works in real time.
The company' global head of research, Rick Rashid, demonstrated the technology to a crowd of 2,000 students and teachers at the 14th annual Computing in the 21st Century Conference, held in Tianjin, China.
Standing onstage with a large screen behind him, Rashid spoke naturally and had his words rendered on the screen as English text in real-time with near-perfect accuracy. Those words were then translated to Chinese on a second screen and rendered as sound closely resembling the speech patterns of the original speaker.
Rashid gave further details about the translator on a blog post over the weekend.
"In my presentation, I showed how we take the text that represents my speech and run it through translation- in this case, turning my English into Chinese in two steps," said Rashid.
"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. Still, the technology has developed to be quite useful," he added.
Rashid also said that the company had attained an important goal by enabling an English speaker like him to present in Chinese in his own voice.
"Though it was a limited test, the effect was dramatic, and the audience came alive in response. When I spoke in English, the system automatically combined all the underlying technologies to deliver a robust speech to speech experience-my voice speaking Chinese."
A live speech-to-speech translator has been the dream of Sci-fi fans since a similar device was featured on the first series of Star Trek back in the 1960s.
In the show, the device is used to communicate with aliens and often requires some time for it to absorb the new language and provide an accurate translation.
Microsoft's device similarly requires a few hours of speech from a native speaker before it can work flawlessly.
Microsoft is not the only company working on real-time speech translation. Both AT&T and Google have similar projects under way and Japanese company NTT Docomo has already shown off a smartphone app that lets Japanese people call foreigners and lets both speak in their native tongue.
A video of Rashid demonstrating the new technolgoy can be seen below.
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