Language no bar

Good news for diplomats. This new machine will give them respite from interpreters

 
Published: Tuesday 31 December 1996

-- (Credit: Vishwajyoti)THE days of pointing at a phrase book and loudly asking the way to the railway station in a foreign city - hoping someone would know your language - could soon be over, thanks to a translating computer that Siemens of Germany is set to unveil next month.

The Siemens' prototype will sit between two people speaking different languages and translate their conversation, states a report in Pc WoHd (September '96). Rather than translating verbatim, its database of phrases is scanned to sense the essence. So, 11 the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak," will not translate into Russian as, "the Vodka is fine, but the meat has gone sour." Siemens claims to have produced a software that can tell the difference in meaning when words are reused in various contexts.

After the words have been processed, the computer rates several options of what the speaker is trying to say. The highest scorer is selected and then a sentence in the foreign language is sought from its database. The translating PC is not fast enough to be used in the commercial world, but will offer real-time translations within five years. There is currently a time lag of about 10 seconds. Work will continue in the next few years on widening, the software's vocabulary as well as teaching it colloquial sayings. The speech- recognition programme will also be worked on to enable it to cope with regional accents.

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