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It seems that the babel fish or Star Trek’s universal translator might not be so far off into the future as you might think.

Indeed, Microsoft has been working on a multiple language translation system using text-to-speech technology for some time now, aiming towards real-time (or near-real) time translation of conversations.

This system can now deal with 26 different languages, translating English into any of these (including more complex languages such as Mandarin).

Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer, Rik Rashid, along with Principal Researcher Frank Soong showed off the new technology at TechFest 2012.

Soong played a video of Rashid’s boss, Craig Mundie, speaking Mandarin using the translation algorithms. We’ve no idea how accurate the spoken words were – but it certainly seemed an impressive translation, even if the speech was rather digitised sounding.

Doubtless that’ll be worked on to smooth over, but the technology does employ the user’s voice when it comes to the foreign translation, which helps it to seem more natural.

The user does have to train the system to imitate his or her voice, however, but this only takes around an hour or so.

The future, of course, will see this sort of technology packed on board smartphones, ensuring travellers will be able to communicate wherever they are (given that the language is a supported one).

That support is expected to increase considerably beyond 26 languages before too long.

Source: Techwatch

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