What is Speech to Speech Translation?

No longer in the realm of science fiction, the concept of a real-time universal translator is currently in the works as pioneering companies such as Google and Facebook are acquiring and developing technologies that support speech recognition, language translation, and speech synthesis. In 2006, an advancement that led to the development and use of layered models of inputs, termed deep neural networks (DNN), brought speech recognition to its highest level of accuracy yet, clearing the way for speech-to-speech translation. As a result, today’s consumers are habitually interacting with voice-activated virtual assistants on their mobile phones and even in their vehicles with greater ease and comfort. Researchers are now applying DNN to automatic translation engines in efforts to increase the semantic accuracy of interpreting the world’s languages, and Microsoft engineers have already demo-ed software that can synthesize an individual’s own voice in another language, from English to Mandarin. Progress in machine learning technologies is bringing the universal translator closer to the consumer’s hand, and is poised to transform communication and collaboration at the global level.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?
  • With our limited budgets, it is often difficult for museums to be able to offer content in more than a single language. Real time translation could be a game-changer in terms of welcoming new museum visitors from traditionally under-served communities. But it's not a panacea. The content being translated must be crafted with sensitivity to cultural (as well as language) differences. At our own institution, all of our tour guides and docents present in English, yet the Twin Cities has the largest number of Hmong and Somali immigrants in the US, many of whom have limited or no English language abilities. Real time translation could at least help bridge what is a significant gap. Won't solve all of the problems, of course, but could be a start. - dhegley dhegley Feb 26, 2016
  • I agree with Douglas. Speech-to-speech would be a seismic shift in what technology can do to connect people more than they ever have been before. I think this is one of the most exciting things that is in the near future. - emilyllytle emilyllytle Feb 26, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry?
  • Has potential to help welcome and engage visitors who do not fully-understand English. - dhegley dhegley Feb 26, 2016
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?
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