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Japan Getting Real-Time Phone Call Translator App 113

another random user writes with news that NTT Docomo, Japan's largest wireless carrier, will be rolling out a real-time translation app for phone calls on November 1. At launch, the app will translate Japanese into English, Mandarin, and Korean, and later that month it will add French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Thai. No word on Klingon. From the article: "The products have the potential to let companies avoid having to use specially trained multilingual staff, helping them cut costs. They could also aid tourism. However, the software involved cannot offer perfect translations, limiting its use in some situations. ... It provides users with voice translations of the other speaker's conversation after a slight pause, as well as providing a text readout. ... NTT Docomo will soon face competition from France's Alcatel-Lucent which is developing a rival product, WeTalk. It can handle Japanese and about a dozen other languages including English, French and Arabic. The service is designed to work over any landline telephone, meaning the company has had to find a way to do speech recognition using audio data sampled at a rate of 8kHz or 16kHz. Other products — which rely on data connections — have used higher 44kHz samples which are easier to process."
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Japan Getting Real-Time Phone Call Translator App

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  • Star Trek (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday October 22, 2012 @08:51AM (#41727579) Journal

    One step closer to Star Trek. Seriously, though, someone needs to set up a "" domain and set it to replay some of the funniest or awkward phone call translations.

    And on an unrelated note, I am now seeing stories with red bars at the top. Am I now seeing articles to be posted in the future? Or is this just another Slashdot weird redesign?

  • Re:Star Trek (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Monday October 22, 2012 @08:58AM (#41727643) Homepage

    One step closer to Star Trek.

    Still far away, though. This project is making use of giant pre-existing databases of English and Japanese in order to translate speech from one language to the other. The Star Trek universal translator, on the other hand, was capable of translating between English and previously unknown alien languages. Because of the principle of l'arbitraire du signe and the frequent use of idioms in human speech, in order for a computer to be able to learn and translate from a previously undocumented language (as opposed to useful but flawed Google Translate-like methods), we would essentially need true AI, and that doesn't seem likely in the coming years.

  • Don't worry humans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday October 22, 2012 @09:21AM (#41727811)

    limiting its use in some situations.

    Don't worry humans, most of you are not going to lose your translation job.

    We already limit human translators to "important" stuff only.

    The people most likely to lose their jobs are Indian call centers. Soon, you'll be "talking" to Bob at Dell who walks you thru power cycling your windows box, but he's actually in Afghanistan and doesn't speak a word of English. Also instead of telemarketing scum leaving messages on my answering machine, they'll be having Turing test conversations about how I should vote for any politician but Johnson (whom I am voting for).

    I'm sure there will be a contractual limitation not to do anything important with the service "So I'm not telling ya all, that ya all can't not shut off the backup reactor cooling pump disabling relay..." WTF does that mean in English much less Japanese? So... no critical infrastructure support, no medical, no legal, no engineering, no management, no HR, no accounting... whats left other than telemarketing and call centers?

  • Re:"Cut Costs" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 22, 2012 @09:29AM (#41727879)

    Yeah well, and candle makers and horse carriage makers also lost their jobs. And so did coal shovelers and pretzel salters.

    The goal here is, to free humanity from primitive low-level jobs, so that they can concentrate on cool and interesting challenges.
    In fact we're already so far with this, that we (at least in Germany) could offer unconditional base income (generated from those automated low-level jobs), so people can do exactly that: Work on making dreams come true.
    And: No, contrary to what the industrialists want to tell you, humans won't become lazy slobs when they aren't forced into slave labor. It has been shown, time and time again, that people need that freedom to create something really great, and historically, artists and inventors thrived when there was such a space.

    You're assuming people are dumbasses that can't strive for higher things if they have the freedom and resources. They aren't. Most people just grew up to assume being stupid is cool and that they could feel entitled to get everything pre-chewed and wrapped in 10 miles of idiot padding. They can do much more, if they have to or want to.

    Also, if you ever tried those translations systems, you'll know that it's not a low-level job at all, and it will still take a long time, before we don't need human translators anymore. If somebody has a business deal of any importance, you can bet your ass, that he won't risk losing it because he was too cheap to get a real human translator.

    Conclusion: Don't be so passive! You're not a machine that gets used and thrown away by companies at will. You have your own will. (Or at least you should.) Do something great with it! Be an individual! Otherwise, are you even really alive?

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Monday October 22, 2012 @09:33AM (#41727903) Homepage Journal

    Can you imagine how rich this dude would have been had he actually patented every concept he came up with for Star Trek? Fortunately, back then you couldn't patent a concept, because our government wasn't as corrupt.

    And therein lies the ultimate irony of Star Trek; for everything Gene got right about the tech, he failed miserably predicting human nature and greed.

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday October 22, 2012 @09:41AM (#41727975) Journal

    IF you translate between Japanese and English it would be FAR FAR FAR easier to do it with text first. Have you seen some of the translations google comes up with? Often it ain't even good enough to get the gist of the original message, let alone be good enough to carry a conversation.

    With speech to speech translation, you got to first have proper voice regonization, a far from perfect technology, then have good translation, which doesn't yet exist especially for such totally different languages as japanese/english. And then you got have good text to speech. Which ALSO still isn't anything to write home about or computer game would use it to be able to forgo voice acting and have far more flexible scripts including usage of player chosen names.

    Combine all three and better get some extra hosting to store all the hilarious screwups.

    The reason Japanese/English is so hard to translate is that the languages are completely different in which the way you say something and what information is included/excluded is totally different. And then people make it worse by leaving things out they expect someone from their own circle to know but that someone from another culture needs to make things clear. How would you translate 'dude'. And yes I know that is a lousy example of hip and happening street talk but I am a nerd, what do I know of being hip. But the translating engine better knows or you are going to get a tower of babel.

    If this new solution magically improve all three fields needed to an as yet unheard of standard, it would be amazing. I doubt it, but it would be amazing.

    Now just convince the japanese to stop putting all the text on their webpages in images and we might actually be able to make the world a bit smaller. Oh and get companies to make deal with global payment services so anyone can use their local payment system to pay anywhere in the world.

  • Re:"Cut Costs" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Monday October 22, 2012 @10:30AM (#41728455) Journal

    But that never seems to happen though.

    I was watching a TV programme called "The Mighty Micro" (it's available on YouTube), a 6-part documentary on the coming microprocessor made in the late 1970s by the BBC. It was interesting to see what predictions came true and which ones were wide of the mark. In the final programme, the pundits were predicting what would happen. Everything from the cashless society by the mid-1990s (didn't happen), to the prediction of massive easily accessible data (did happen), to huge reforms in education (partially happened).

    One prediction that was made that by the mid 1990s we would probably only be working 20 hours weeks, and society would have to shift to a model where we don't work much. However, the opposite has happened. Not only is the workforce larger than ever (Britain's workforce is probably double what it was in the late 1970s), unemployment is lower (in Britain, despite the workforce being twice the size of the late 70s workforce, the absolute number of unemployed is 1 million people fewer despite the worst recession in nearly a century), and many sections of the work force work longer hours than they used to. (Ironically, it's in the computer industry where the longer hours are more extreme, for example in the United States you're seen as a slacker unless you routinely work 60-80 hour weeks).

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"