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by Mike Zazaian October 27, 2006 - 12:17pm, 3 Comments

 Instant Translator Makes Anyone Bilingual

A device being developed at Carnegie Mellon University allows its user to mouth words in their native language, then automatically translates and announces those words in a foreign tongue.

According to the report from New Scientist, The device uses electrodes attached to the face and neck to detect and interpret the unique patterns of electrical signals sent to facial muscles and the tongue as the person mouths words. The electrodes detect not the words spoken by the user but the phonemes, the various sounds that comprise the words. The user has only to train the system with the complete set of phonemes for a given language, and the device will theoretically be able to translate and broadcast any word within a programmed language. Said Tanja Schultz, a member of the Carnegie Mellon research team:

The idea is that you can mouth words in English and they will come out in Chinese or another language

The device improves upon other automatic translation technologies wherein the user would have to say words out loud, wait for the device to translate, then press a button to broadcast the translated speech in a different language. While such devices can be useful, they’re prohibitive when being used in every day speech. Carnegie Mellon’s aim with their modification of this device is to allow a more fluid, natural exchange between users. Says CMU speech researcher Alan Black. The ultimate goal is to be in a position where you can just have a conversation.

Schultz developed the basis for the new technology in 2005 along with colleague Alex Waibel. The prototype used a technique called sub-vocal speech recognition to recognize whole words within language. Its uses were much more limited in scope as the user would have to train the system with individual words to facilitate translation. The prototype topped out at a 100-word vocabulary, and could only translate Mandarin Chinese in to English or German.

And while the phoneme-detecting version of the technology promises to be much more versatile, it’s still a long way from perfect. When faced with a set of words that it hasn’t yet processed, the system’s translations are 62-percent accurate. With a more limited vocabulary of 100-200 words this number raises to about 80 percent. Prototypes of the new model can currently translate Chinese into English, and English into German or Spanish, but researchers plan to expand the language sets as their research progresses.

Via NewScientist
Read a supplement from BBC News