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Microsoft Shows Off Adaptive, Multilingual Text to Speech System

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the still-no-sign-of-warp-drives dept.

Microsoft 171

MrSeb writes about a really cool project from Microsoft's speech research group. From the article: "Microsoft Research has shown off software that translates your spoken words into another language while preserving the accent, timbre, and intonation of your actual voice. In a demo of the prototype software, Rick Rashid, Microsoft's chief research officer, said a long sentence in English, and then had it translated into Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin. You can definitely hear an edge of digitized 'Microsoft Sam,' but overall it's remarkable how the three translations still sound just like Rashid. The translation requires an hour of training, but after that there's no reason why it couldn't be run in real time on a smartphone, or near-real-time with a cloud backend. Imagine this tech in a two-way setup. You speak into your smartphone, and it comes out in their language. Then, the person you're talking to speaks into your smartphone and their voice comes out in your language." The Techfest 2012 keynote has a demo of the technology around minute 13:00.

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But I miss Microsoft Sam! (1)

segin (883667) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334719)

Arby 'n' the Chief wouldn't be the same without him!

Re:But I miss Microsoft Sam! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334749)

my roflcopter goes soi soi soi soi soi soi soi soi soi soi tch tch tch tch tch tch tch tch

Re:But I miss Microsoft Sam! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334769)

I dunno, Sam kept trying to kill my aunt. [youtube.com]

Re:But I miss Microsoft Sam! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334793)

Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all.

Re:But I miss Microsoft Sam! (1)

FridayBob (619244) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335083)

Perhaps, but Microsoft Bob [wikipedia.org] was the more memorable.

Re:But I miss Microsoft Sam! (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336175)

I've never been the greatest Microsoft advocate, but if that system indeed works as well as promised MS will go risen in my esteem. Not that they will care at all. But compared to the anaemic progress made by Google Translate over the past years (in both design and efficiency regards), Microsoft would deserve some increased consideration.

AZN (2, Insightful)

willie3204 (444890) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334737)

Japanese please!!!!

Re:AZN (2)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334777)

You're hoping to understand your un-subbed tentacle porn?

Re:AZN (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334967)

All I want is to be able to hear the schoolgirls screams of pain and pleasure as the Octopenis for Hell tears into her every orifice. Is that so unreasonable?

Sounds cool....but.. (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334751)

Will they license this for PBX systems other than their own?

I would love a multilingual system like this. The audio is really good compared to the paid software that I have access to.

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334861)

But what? Why the hell should they?

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (2)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335161)

Why the hell not? It's a product like any other.

They sell Microsoft Office for operating systems other than Windows.

I just hope they do the same with this and not tie into their own PBX exclusively. If they do it will make it see a hell of lot less production, that is for sure.

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335639)

presumably they'll so some rather simple math and see if it's worth it.

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (1, Troll)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335675)

They sell Microsoft Office for operating systems other than Windows.

This concession to the antitrust authorities and Apple is something of an exception to the general rule and it was a brutal fight to make it come about. Your use of "operating systems" in the plural is interesting. Other than Mac OS X, which? Windows Phone shouldn't count in this context. Are there any others?

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335957)

OneNote for IOS: http://blogs.office.com/b/microsoft-onenote/archive/2011/12/12/onenote-for-ios-gets-new-features-arrives-in-new-markets-worldwide.aspx

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (0)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336445)

OneNote is not Microsoft Office. It's not even properly an Office app. It's an applet at best.

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39336559)

OneNote is not Microsoft Office. It's not even properly an Office app. It's an applet at best.

What?? First, on the Office product page itself it is the second Office program listed, after Excel. Second, Onenote is one of the most useful Office programs, but very poorly marketed, it does a lot more [microsoft.com] than people usually think it does. And it is not only available on IOS, but also on Android.

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (4, Informative)

Gadget_Guy (627405) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336419)

They sell Microsoft Office for operating systems other than Windows.

This concession to the antitrust authorities and Apple is something of an exception to the general rule and it was a brutal fight to make it come about.

What rubbish! The first version of Microsoft Office EVER was for the Mac in August 1989. The Windows release came out in November 1990. With whom did they have this "brutal fight" to get this released for the Mac?

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , after the release of Word for the Mac in 1985 (2 years after Word for MS-DOS and Xenix), "Word for Mac's sales were higher than its MS-DOS counterpart for at least four years". It seems that Microsoft were rather pragmatic about selling software where it would make a buck!

Re:Sounds cool....but.. (1)

malakai (136531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335753)

It's built using the MS Speech platform. Their may be a port for Mac ( Office for Mac have TTS? ), but in general for a PBX system to use this, this part of the system has to be running windows.

That said, the voices have been free. You can buy MS Speech voices from 3rd parties for lots of money if you want some more natural voices. This seems like a step towards the eventually downfall of highly trained specialized voices. The concept here is, hire a new voice actress, spend an hour, and translate her into multiple languages.

The big boss was impressed by another demo (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334757)

"Programmeurs, programmeurs, programmeurs, programmeurs, programmeurs!"

Re:The big boss was impressed by another demo (2)

grcumb (781340) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335687)

SAM: "Ich bin ein Developer! Developer! Developer! Developer! Developer! Developer! Developer! Developer!STOP 80000X21 OOM_MONKEYDANCE_INFINITE_LOOP"

I see where this is headed. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334765)

Imagine this tech in a two-way setup. You speak into your smartphone, and it comes out in their language. Then, the person you're talking to speaks into your smartphone and their voice comes out in your language."

So, the logical result of this is that all the phone sex lines suddenly have girls that sound like they're from India?

Re:I see where this is headed. (3, Funny)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335007)

I want to hear a TTS that can turn Punjabi into Valley Girl.

Re:I see where this is headed. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335211)

Not possible. Valley girl is uninteligiblatablizable.

Re:I see where this is headed. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335485)

Like as if

Re:I see where this is headed. (1)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335655)

if you read the output of any given chatbot in a valley-girl voice, it will pass the Turing test.

Re:I see where this is headed. (1)

Ghaoth (1196241) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335989)

All with an American accent no doubt.

Looks like the spooks have a new toy...or do they? (1)

storkus (179708) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334795)

I don't have them in front of me, but I remember there being patents on this very thing going back quite a few years--some back to the 80's! I also think there was a /. article on it somewhere along the line...

First translation fail (5, Funny)

HBI (604924) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334801)

"My hovercraft is full of eels" would have been perfect.

Re:First translation fail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335531)

I was expecting "Let's set so double the killer delete select all".

Re:First translation fail (3, Funny)

mug funky (910186) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335667)

instead of bobcat, hovercraft contained eels. would not buy again.

Mod up! (1)

KeensMustard (655606) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335933)

+1 xkcd/slashdot meme mashup

Re:First translation fail (2)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335869)

"My hovercraft is full of eels" would have been perfect.

That's what the low quality garbled voice sounded like. What the Microsoft system actually said was "Hey, google is full of evil".

Re:First translation fail (1)

Elrond, Duke of URL (2657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336179)

Better still:

"We am thy freighter Ursva, six weeks out of Kronos. Over.
We is condemning food, things and... supplies."

I haven't thought about that in years...

Do they sound alike? (0)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334811)

They didn't sound alike to me. The example in the link (this one, since there are so many [technologyreview.com] ) didn't have translations of the same sentence, each language had different meaning (except maybe Italian, I can't understand that). Also, the translated versions sounded more like a computer than anything. You could say that it sounds more like the original than other computers, but the dominant feature is the computerness of the speech.

But at least they got their research grant.

Re:Do they sound alike? (5, Funny)

Pseudonym Authority (1591027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334985)

I completely agree. It is total garbage and if it isn't absolutely flawless in every possible regard, then it should not even have been attempted.

Re:Do they sound alike? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335187)

I completely agree. It is total garbage and if it isn't absolutely flawless in every possible regard, then it should not even have been attempted.

It's not garbage, and if they had real innovations, it would be nice. Instead, they've taken a few characteristics of a speaker, like pitch, and used those to model the computer voice in another language. It's about as interesting as if someone said, "what would you look like if you were a boy?" (or girl, if you are male), and then sampled your eye color, hair length, nose shape, etc, and then morphed those into a stock photo of a boy. Yeah, it would have some characteristics of you, but it also wouldn't be what you would look like if you were a boy. It would be great as part of some total voice translation package, but they've done the easy part while omitting the hard part. This is my understanding of the situation.

That said, the example in the link is total garbage. They could have made a better demo.

Re:Do they sound alike? (5, Insightful)

Phics (934282) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335575)

It's not garbage, and if they had real innovations, it would be nice. Instead, they've taken a few characteristics of a speaker, like pitch, and used those to model the computer voice in another language.

No, if you listened to the keynote, they took speech characteristics, and then broke the target voice pattern up into 5ms pieces and reconstructed the voice to match a reference translation from a different language. What they are doing is not only very interesting, but clearly has space for improvement and a variety of applications.

It's about as interesting as if someone said, "what would you look like if you were a boy?" (or girl, if you are male), and then sampled your eye color, hair length, nose shape, etc, and then morphed those into a stock photo of a boy. Yeah, it would have some characteristics of you, but it also wouldn't be what you would look like if you were a boy.

That's sort of the point. The sampled voice may not speak fluent Mandarin, but if you'd like it to, this technology will allow it to. A better analogy would be along the lines of taking a computerized sample of your body shape and texture, (skin, hair, face, etc), and then using 3D animation to reconstruct a model of you doing karate, even if you didn't actually know karate.

Eventually, as the 'resolution' improves, the bits of this that you disapprove of, (the computerized feel you are getting from the voice), will most certainly improve as well. But it's the underlying ideas and tech which are interesting here.

Re:Do they sound alike? (-1, Troll)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335707)

Eventually, as the 'resolution' improves, the bits of this that you disapprove of, (the computerized feel you are getting from the voice), will most certainly improve as well. But it's the underlying ideas and tech which are interesting here.

Doubtful. Other researchers will, by trying other techniques, but not these guys. There is nothing interesting here.

Re:Do they sound alike? (1)

Phics (934282) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336107)

Doubtful. Other researchers will, by trying other techniques, but not these guys. There is nothing interesting here.

Meh... who cares who does it. To reflect back from a prior post...

It would be great as part of some total voice translation package, but they've done the easy part while omitting the hard part. This is my understanding of the situation.

The idea has very little to do with semantically correct translations, and as such it may have less appeal to people more interested in the accurate conveyance of meaning in translation systems. This wasn't a showcase of translations however... it was presented as a way to improve text to speech in multilingual applications, and it doesn't seem like a terrible approach, even if not yet perfectly executed. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that you were saying it was anything else... you just seem more interested in accurate translations than the actual presentation. Not even saying you're wrong - hey, form follows function. Just saying I think it's valid, even if not of universal interest.

Re:Do they sound alike? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336167)

No, I don't even think it's a good way of improving text to speech in multilingual applications lol. The biggest problem with text-to-speech in multi-lingual applications is that the computer sounds like a computer. What they did here, making it vaguely resemble one human instead of another human, doesn't fix the primary problem. The art and science of computer speech is still just as bad as it was before.

Re:Do they sound alike? (1)

Phics (934282) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336367)

We probably won't agree here, because you don't see any value in the concept. I do, so I'll just let stand my opinion in my first reply and call it a night. I think it's an interesting approach with room for improvement, in much the same way any new technique or idea is introduced and explored. It will develop and turn into something better, either by inspiring someone else, or perhaps by Microsoft making something more of it... or it will be replaced by a better entirely different technique, (I'm guessing you're in support of the latter).

I will admit that looking back I was being a little quixotic in one respect...

Meh... who cares who does it.

...Patents being the way they are these days, I guess I kind of do care who does it.

Re:Do they sound alike? (1)

umghhh (965931) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336555)

this is interesting - it may mean at the end that all human translators will have to pay royalties from now on?

Re:Do they sound alike? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335171)

Because research products are always 100% perfect, right?

Re:Do they sound alike? (1)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335265)

Yeah, they're just trying to play catch-up with Intellivion's latest technology [youtube.com]

microsoft and their credibility (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334813)

can we get this over with once and for all? microsoft is like nestle, never to be trusted again. no matter how muich cool stuff you put out it won't matter; you have already abused public faith so badly that you can never be trusted again, ever.

Re:microsoft and their credibility (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335009)

We? Is that the royal we? Otherwise, who are you speaking for?

Re:microsoft and their credibility (2)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335023)

microsoft is like nestle, never to be trusted again

That reminds me. I need to pick up some chocolate milk powder.

Re:microsoft and their credibility (5, Funny)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335253)

My employer is a Microsoft shop. Microsoft Windows Seven optimizes my productivity with its new context-sensitive search. Microsoft Office allows me to quickly compose documents and spreadsheets of arbitrary complexity.

It is no surprise that Excel is being used for engineering [google.com] given its power and flexibility. Hell, a shop I worked for used Excel as its database.

Now let's get down the the nitty-gritty - Visual Studio is one of the most powerful IDEs on the face of the planet. You want power? You got it. You want speed? You got it. You want both? It empowers you, the ninety-pound weakling, with both, with minimal effort. I got a raise because I used Visual Studio. I got my dick sucked by my boss' hottest secretary because I wrote an patch in C# that prevented our ERP system from total meltdown.

Why be some boring open-source ODBC slob when you can be fast. Quick. Nimble. Packing.

Be potent. Be Microsoft.

Re:microsoft and their credibility (0)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335497)

Oops you posted on the wrong account bonch.

Re:microsoft and their credibility (2)

philip.paradis (2580427) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335569)

Stay thirsty, my friend.

Re:microsoft and their credibility (1)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336473)

I got my dick sucked by my boss' hottest secretary because I wrote an patch in C# that prevented our ERP system from total meltdown.

Let me guess, that was two weeks ago and the ERP system was also from Microsoft? ;)

Re:microsoft and their credibility (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336531)

The first paragraph sounded like it should be in the voice of those youtube videos like the one with the "webscale" bears.

Been done. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334829)

"Imagine this tech in a two-way setup... "

Yeah, it's called Google Translate.

Re:Been done. (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39334871)

Yeah, text translation is exactly the same thing as speech translation. It must have been really hard for Google to get the 'accent, timbe, and intonation' of all that text just right.

Heh (2)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#39334879)

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we had that story about scifi nitpicks and someone griped about aliens in Star Trek always speaking English?

Given the torment that foreign language class (1, Funny)

NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335003)

was for me at university anything that could make that go away is a good thing as far as I'm concerned. (Well, that's got to be at least 0 mod but I've got karma to spare so I don't care.)

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335073)

This technology will hopefully render learning a language obsolete. It's a stupid high school and college requirement. People have the idea that it makes them more worldly, but the world is a huge fucking place with more than your native language and one other language. I never learned a second language, because I saw what a waste it was. I am almost never in a situation where someone else doesn't speak English, even if it's not their native langauge, and it has limited business use since speaking German has little value if you're in Spain, Russia, Africa, Japan, China, Brazil, France, or Iceland.

Not that I'm some kind of xenophobe. I just don't see the payoff after spending 4-8years of your life learning one language (especially since almost everyone I know who studied a language in high school and maybe college forgot it by the time they turned 30).

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (3, Informative)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335177)

Hehe....

I am bilingual in English and another language. When I go to that country, many of the tourist attractions have price lists in English, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, you name it. Then they have one in the local language. The prices on that one are half of what they are for the tourists. And they're written out in words, not numbers, so if you can't read them you're SOL.

So yup, you don't need to speak the other guy's language, if you're willing to play by his rules.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (2)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335231)

I learned Spanish really well. It took me five years, but I've managed to trick native speakers into thinking I was a native speaker. But it was a lot of work.

Then one day, I went to Spain, and it WAS really great. I could speak with anyone, and I was leading the group, translating for everyone. It lasted a week.

Then I got home, and asked myself, "was that worth the time took learning Spanish?" And the answer is no, no it wasn't, not at all. Even if I travel to a Spanish-speaking country for a week of every year, it was not worth it. It was a lot of work, and I could hire a translator or pay the 'tourist' price for things, and still end up ahead.

That said, I don't regret learning Spanish, but learning it just so you can get a cheaper tourist trap is not worth it at all.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (5, Insightful)

ChatHuant (801522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335511)

That said, I don't regret learning Spanish, but learning it just so you can get a cheaper tourist trap is not worth it at all.

Of course it's not worth it, if all the benefit you find in knowing another language is saving a couple of bucks at some touristy place. But knowing a different language is much more than that. You have now access to new worlds of literature, movies, poetry and music first hand, without a translator to intermediate (because, as the Italians say, "traduttore, traditore"!). You can talk to more people directly, understand their culture, expand your mind. You can read a whole set of new web sites, see different perspectives, or read news that aren't easily available otherwise. It opens lots of new possibilities for you - for example if you want to work for a global company, or if you ever feel like work in a different country for a few years. And even without any of those, the very effort of learning a different language improves your brain and slows mental aging.

I'm relatively fluent in three languages now, and can more or less read another two. I read books in all of them, and I find it really enriches my mind. I just started learning a fourth (Japanese), and am really looking forward to reading Japanese books in their original form (even though learning enough of the kanji characters will be a pain).

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (3, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335685)

I just started learning a fourth (Japanese), and am really looking forward to reading Japanese books in their original form (even though learning enough of the kanji characters will be a pain).

Might want to check out this book [amazon.com] , it is good. And since I'm giving completely unsolicited advice, the exposition of grammar in "Communicating with Japanese by the Total Method" is my favorite of all language textbooks I've seen.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

ChatHuant (801522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335991)

Might want to check out this book, it is good.

Thank you! After reading the reviews, the book seems to match pretty well my initial goal (reading cursively). 99 bucks new is a bit steep, but I'll check my local library, or see if I can get it second hand.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335997)

Oh, I didn't realize that was an old edition. The new one is cheaper. [amazon.com]

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

ChatHuant (801522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336045)

Oh, I didn't realize that was an old edition. The new one is cheaper.

Heh, much better, thanks again!

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (2)

wrook (134116) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335737)

Just a quick tip. Start on kanji as soon as possible. Knowing the kanji creates mnemonics for learning vocabulary. It also helps you decipher new vocabulary that you've never seen before. I wasted a lot of time before I realized that learning the kanji and and vocabulary at the same time is *faster* than learning the vocabulary alone.

One more quick tip while I'm here (somewhat controversial, probably). Completely ignore polite speech until you have a good grasp of the underlying plain form. This is opposite to virtually every textbook on the market, but if you are like me it will save you a lot of time. Polite grammar is a *very* easy to learn extension of plain grammar. But the opposite is not true. If you start thinking using polite grammar you will constantly be making mistakes in the *much* more common plain grammar. Advice to the contrary is to deal with talking with strangers (100% of the speach you are likely to use while travelling). But if you want to learn to speak Japanese rather than just use handy phrases, it is bad advice IMHO. The order presented in Tae Kim's guide is extremely helpful: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/ [guidetojapanese.org] This isn't all the grammar in the language (by a long shot), but if you learn this you can be relatively fluent in most situations.

Finally, reading manga will show you good conversational patterns. Please keep in mind that some characters have speech affectations that nobody would use in real life. These are easy to spot, though. Reading other material is not nearly as useful for acquiring conversational language in my experience.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

ChatHuant (801522) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336029)

Just a quick tip. Start on kanji as soon as possible. Knowing the kanji creates mnemonics for learning vocabulary. It also helps you decipher new vocabulary that you've never seen before. I wasted a lot of time before I realized that learning the kanji and and vocabulary at the same time is *faster* than learning the vocabulary alone.

Thank you, that makes a lot of sense. I just finished learning hiragana and katakana, and still practising reading/writing, but I'll try to start on the kanji as soon as possible - even though I expect it'll take me years to become anywhere near fluent :)

My teacher insists on the polite forms (the course is sponsored by the company, and, obviously, they're mainly interested in business interactions), but I try to go beyond that - I expect reading as much as I can will help there.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

petsounds (593538) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336547)

I'm relatively fluent in three languages now, and can more or less read another two. I read books in all of them, and I find it really enriches my mind. I just started learning a fourth (Japanese), and am really looking forward to reading Japanese books in their original form (even though learning enough of the kanji characters will be a pain).

How do you retain all of them conversationally? Did you grow up multilingual? My non-English skills are continually crumbling from disuse.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

chaered (1834264) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335661)

Your experience may be more due to how languages are generally taught at schools. I actually enjoy learning languages, but in retrospect not a lot of the material they fed us in a classroom setting stuck; most of my effective learning was after that. Your brain is pretty good at picking up language in an immersion situation and while talking/hearing about something you are interested in (context memory); reciting random words on paper and getting 3 minutes of teacher interaction per week are pretty much a waste of time. One of the great benefits of a 2nd language (not 3rd etc. but specifically 2nd) is to make you aware of how your own language works; if you have nothing to compare it against, it's like water to a fish. Or (considering this forum) like only ever learning one programming language and working on one platform: it may be fine for earning a wage and getting a large set of stuff done, but even if you spend 90% of your time using that skill set exclusively, you can develop a lot more depth and appreciation of the pros and cons of your chosen environment by spending some quality time in other ones. And, analogously, you can't really get a feel for a technology by reading a book in class and programming "hello world".

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (2)

wrook (134116) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335875)

I teach English to Japanese high school students. The vast majority of them will never speak English ever again. Nor will they need to. Here's what I tell them.

Not everyone needs to speak English. If you plan to stay where you are, probably you can avoid having to speak English. This does not imply that learning English is not useful for some people. I live and work in Japan and can do so partly because I speak/read Japanese. Life in Japan is hard if you don't speak and read Japanese. This is true in other places in the world. If you don't speak the language, you will never, ever fit in the way someone who is fluent does.

You don't need to speak any particular language, but being able to learn a language gives you options that other people don't have. It is a skill that can open many doors for you.

One of the advantages of learning a language is that it is easy. That is probably surprising to many people, but the fact of the matter is that it is not difficult to speak English, or Japanese or any other human language. All over the world there are amazingly stupid people who can speak their native language fluently. If you can speak one language, you can easily speak two, or three, or any number of other languages.

Why don't people learn foreign languages if it is so easy? Because, while it is conceptually simple, a language is huge. Learning a language requires persistence, attention to detail, flexibility, the ability to make and admit mistakes and a huge amount of effort. There are techniques that will make the process faster and more pleasant, but in the end language acquisition is a process of personal growth.

While there are some few benefits for knowing a foreign language, it is true that most people neither need nor will realise those benefits. The process of learning a language is another matter altogether, though. The skills required to succeed are the real treasure. Those who avoid learning these skills, which are admittedly a pain to acquire, only hurt themselves. I don't care if my students use English in their lives or not. I teach those other skills *through* English, not *for* English.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336073)

I can't tell if that's an argument against learning a foreign language, or an argument for learning more than one.

Re:Given the torment that foreign language class (1)

ChromeAeonium (1026952) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336011)

I took several different languages. I am admittedly biased in that I'm a dyed in the wool linguaphile, but maybe you just had a shitty professor. In a couple of my classes there were people who wanted nothing to do with learning a language, but a good professor is what made the experience (for them anyway) bearable or even at times enjoyable. Well, as enjoyable as a class can be anyway.

Does it do Gorn? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335019)

And does it insert the appropriate slurping and hissing sounds? "This is your opponent, earthling. I have heard every word you have said. Jim: All right. What do you want? Gorn: I weary of the chase. Wait for me. I shall be merciful and quick."

Re:Does it do Gorn? (1)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335359)

And, if it does do Gorn - will it blink?

That's fine, but... (1)

FairAndHateful (2522378) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335061)

...can they explain to me what "do the needful" means? That's English to English, and I don't fully understand the subtext of it.

Re:That's fine, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335097)

Just say it to "Do the Hustle," and whistle the tune. You'll never hear it the same way again.

Re:That's fine, but... (1)

jfengel (409917) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335987)

It just means "do what needs to be done". There's no particular subtext to it, though I'm sure it's probably more common in some regional dialects than others.

Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (3, Interesting)

theNAM666 (179776) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335213)

1) The translations aren't semantically equivalent (as pointed out by commenters above above). I can already say "Ich bin ein dummer Amerikaner" in my own voice, without machine help. If the meaning isn't there, who cares?

2) The machine accent ain't that great, either.

All of this makes me think this is still somewhat of a pipe dream. The AI guys have been selling the idea of machine translation for years and years-- at least since the 50s, when it was promised to eliminate the need for trained State Department linguists. It's never emerged because it's still a hard problem. Even Google's translate, which beats the MS stuff by some yards, produces results which range from awkward phrasing to just plain inaccurate and misleading.

He's selling a great idea, but it's kind of like the Fountain of Youth. It ain't there, vaporware.

Re:Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335339)

All of this makes me think this is still somewhat of a pipe dream. The AI guys have been selling the idea of machine translation for years and years-- at least since the 50s, when it was promised to eliminate the need for trained State Department linguists. It's never emerged because it's still a hard problem.

Yeap. If you can't solve the hard problem, solve an easier one that looks similar. That's what these guys have done.

Re:Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335507)

Why so cynical? Why so "a problem is either solved or there can be no progress towards it"?

Re:Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335711)

Why so cynical? Why so "a problem is either solved or there can be no progress towards it"?

It's not that dichotomy. If you read, my meaning was, "these guys are not making progress towards it." That is quite different than saying there can be no progress towards it.

The biggest FAIL (1)

oGMo (379) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335489)

3) You have to train it for an hour?

I was actually slightly interested until I got to this bit and realized, like any other Microsoft "innovation," it wasn't really at all. Anyone can make a custom voice sample in about an hour. Hooking up simple voice recognition and text-to-speech is incredibly dull.

Had they actually interpreted intonation for semantics, and simulated and learned your voice in real time, it would have been pretty neat.

Re:Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335599)

It's a research project you dolt. They aren't trying to "sell" anything. The cynism here is insufferable.

Re:Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (3, Insightful)

NoKaOi (1415755) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335697)

He's selling a great idea, but it's kind of like the Fountain of Youth. It ain't there, vaporware.

Is he actually trying to sell a mature product, or is he just showing something cool? I'm not sure where the innovation is, if it's in being able to train text-to-speech to sound like your voice, preserving intonations and such across the translation (even though it's obviously not great at it yet), or if it's just in putting a few existing technologies together, but you have speech recognition, and a translator, and text to speech that sounds like your voice, then this is what you can have. Include preserving the intonation and you have something cool. So what if it's just showing off a cool application of existing technologies?

Translators aren't great but are getting better...speech recognition isn't great but is getting better. Preserving intonation across the translation and including in text-to-speech in a voice that sounds kinda like your own can probably get better too. Put the 3 together and you get something useful. I think that's all it's trying to show, and I think as these technologies get better we could end up with something pretty cool.

If this was a something out of any other company, would the same people be criticizing it?

Re:Just FAIL (pipe dream?) (1)

theNAM666 (179776) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336057)

>If this was a something out of any other company, would the same people be criticizing i

Ehhn. I dunno. I'll say this. I'll give your answer 10 microLenats.

The Future of International Business (2)

guttentag (313541) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335351)

American Businessman (via translated phone call): "I think we can safely say our company would like to use your factory to produce our useless stuff people think they need."
Chinese Businessman (via translated phone call): "An excellent idea! I suggest we sign the papers over dinner at Translate Server Error [boingboing.net] . They have the best HuMan chicken in town. And the owner prides himself on his bilingual staff."

So, two problems.

One, our text translation software isn't foolproof, but people expect it to be. What happens when the software confuses "galleta" (Spanish for "cookie") with "callate" (Spanish for "shut up"). They do sound similar if you say them out loud, but no one notices because you'd almost never use both in the same conversation. I foresee someone attempting a friendly gesture by offering to share her mother's recipe for "shut up."

Two, live conversations depend upon both parties building on a shared experience. If each one has a different account of the experience, conversations break down very quickly. Ever tried to carry on a conversation with a schizophrenic? And that's just assuming the errors are innocent. What happens when corporations start using this? Your bank requires you to call a number to activate your new card and during the call they have the software "translate" some required disclosure for you, only the translation doesn't really convey what they are supposed to be disclosing. Don't think it won't happen... whoever implements this first on purpose will be running the company one day.

Then again, this whole discussion is purely academic. Gene Roddenberry's estate will just claim prior art [memory-alpha.org] and prevent this from ever becoming a reality. Hopefully.

Re:The Future of International Business (3, Informative)

malakai (136531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335723)

. I foresee someone attempting a friendly gesture by offering to share her mother's recipe for "shut up."

Context is context. Obviously, an English speaker hearing a Spanish speaker offer to share a recipe for "shut up" on a (up until this point) benign and friendly conference call is going to assume translation error. Better than that, translation software knows about these little mix ups better than you do. On a Text To Speech, there's not much to do but suffer the mis-translation ( or maybe they play an audble 'ping' when they warn about a context or idiosyncrasy error), but in a system that displays you something on a device, these things tend to be shaded a different color, and offer options as to what other possible meaning they may have meant, based on context.

One, our text translation software isn't foolproof, but people expect it to be.

No, they don't. No one even expects paid human translators to be perfect.

Two, live conversations depend upon both parties building on a shared experience. If each one has a different account of the experience, conversations break down very quickly. Ever tried to carry on a conversation with a schizophrenic?

Honestly, with a schizophrenic, chances are I have, at some point in my life, on IRC. But more to your point, i've played games where opposing sides are communicating from different languages via google translate. Think Russia vs US, and the only way to talk to them is via delayed google translate results. It's slow, it's tedious, and yet we somehow managed to have amazing rapport with people of like mind. The assholes were still assholes via google translate, and the people we wanted to work with we managed to communicate with. Again, you are ignoring the fact than incrementally better translation is still better than it's predecessor. For now. Sure, one day we'll identify some uncanny valley with voice translation, and we'll all spend lots of time plotting how bad the translation software has to be for us to feel it's robotic.... but for now, any small step forward is better than the previous one.

Then again, this whole discussion is purely academic. Gene Roddenberry's estate will just claim prior art [memory-alpha.org] and prevent this from ever becoming a reality. Hopefully.

Yup, god forbid someone spends time and money on a problem that sci-fi writers got to magically make disappear in one sentence, and a prop. Maybe someday some brilliant young chap will figure out how to make warp drive not require 3x the mass of the universe for power, and Gene's children can make some more cash. Hopefully.

This place is a tomb. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39335527)

I'm going to the nut shop where its fun.

Partnership (1)

microbee (682094) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335695)

Microsoft Research comes up with a prototype that barely works. Apple wraps it up and gives it a foreign name and sells it like crazy.

Is the title correct? (1)

chrism238 (657741) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335787)

I'm confused - isn't this speech-to-speech translation, without any text involved?

Fools (2)

a_hanso (1891616) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335795)

Do you know who the scientist [microsoft.com] is? Because of this man's work, his grandson will never be able to get Data to pronounce contractions properly.

Put this on an implantable chip... (1)

AtomicSymphonic (2570041) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335829)

Somehow work out all the technicalities... and "Universal Translators" will come to be. Speak any language at will!

Translations We'd Like to See: (1)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 2 years ago | (#39335985)

Monty Python's Entry:
I will not buy this record; it is scratched.
I will not buy this TOBACCONIST, IT is scratched!
Would you laaahik... would you LIKE to come back to my place, bouncy bouncy?
My nipples explode with delight!
Aah just go watch it yourself! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6D1YI-41ao [youtube.com]

Frank Zappa's entry:

This is my left hand.
This is my right hand.
I have a big bunch of dick.
Aah, just go watch it yourself! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkCYJ6FK0T4 [youtube.com]

Isn't teh internets great?

Cheap oakleys (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39336281)

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Accent? (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336285)

Accent?
The summary says "preserving the accent, timbre, and intonation of your actual voice". Now i can get timbre and intonation but accent? It made me wonder what does Mandarin with a Scottish accent sound like, does it apply Scottish speech tones, which would make it unintelligibly, or is it clever enough to find a social equivalent, maybe an accent of a small semi-autonomous region of China?

Unfortunately checking TFA reveals this "accent" part to be the slashdot reporter's fantasy.

I don't see the need for all the 'training'... (1)

ThePromenader (878501) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336307)

...as there exists already an international phonetic alphabet [wikipedia.org] , an alphabet that includes annotations for lilts, gutteral intonations and such. Why not just add the IPA pronunciation of each word to a given language dictionary, and have the computer read that? This would greatly reduce the 'training' work needed by the end user. It would also open new possibilities for text-to-speech translation, or even speech-to-speech translation.

To date I have found no text-to-speech reader on any platform that can understand (and speak) IPA symbols.

Re:I don't see the need for all the 'training'... (1)

grouchomarxist (127479) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336469)

The training has to handle the way real people speak as opposed to the idealized way the words are transcribed. The sounds of words change when they are pronounced in a single sentence as opposed to individually. A single word is often pronounced multiple ways in a single English sentence. The IPA dictionary is also unlikely to be able to handle accents. From that article on the IPA it mentions that not all tones are supported. Chances are there are various other phonemes that the IPA doesn't support.

Above all that I bet that this approach is something that has been tried and failed, probably many years ago.

Microsoft voice recognition, because it just works (1)

citizenr (871508) | more than 2 years ago | (#39336429)

Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all

Translation quality? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39336509)

I *really* hope it's better than Bing Translate, which at best produces slightly confusing translations, and at worst totally incomprehensible crap.

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