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A 'babelfish' Could Be the Web's Next Big Thing, Says AI Expert


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A babelfish from the book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

A University of Southampton professor thinks automated real-time translation could be possible in the next few decades.

Credit: Douglas Adams

University of Southampton professor Nigel Shadbolt thinks automatic real-time machine translation could be possible within 25 years, and will be just one of many potential innovations stemming from the evolution of artificial-intelligence systems facilitated by cloud computing.

"With more cloud computing you can imagine that there will be more machine translation," Shadbolt says.

He says an automatic machine translation system will be achievable "because of the large-scale resources that will be available to do entire voice translation on the fly. I would be surprised if in 25 years we haven't got enhanced Bluetooth-based translators that you can just put in your ear."

Dealing with real-time speech is currently a formidable challenge for machine translation and transcription systems, and thus far no machine has proven capable of conducting real-time transcription of conversations, although cloud computing could bring that goal close to fulfillment within several years.

Two years ago, Microsoft showcased a system capable of performing almost real-time translation between English and Chinese with a lower error rate than previously demonstrated. "Rather than having one word in four or five incorrect, now the error rate is one word in seven or eight," says Microsoft's Rick Rashid.

From The Guardian (United States)
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