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Monday, 14 May 2012 19:00

NTT Docomo brings Babel Fish closer to reality

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The Babel Fish was a creation of science fiction author Douglas Adams that could be placed in the ear enabling the user to understand anything said in any language. Smartphones and cloud computing are bringing a limited subset of that capability clsoe to reality.

Japanese telco NTT Docomo has announced plans to launch a second, this time large scale, trial of a cloud based translation service that enables speech made in one language into a mobile phone to be received by another phone in another language - using cloud-based speech recognition, language translation and text-to-speech conversion. NTT Docomo said it aimed to launch a commercial service in March 2013.

The trial is planned for later this year with up to 10,000 participants and will support translation between Japanese and Chinese, English, Korean, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai. For a subset of these languages users will be able to converse face to face because input and output speech will be on the same phone.

The initial trial with 1000 users supported only translations between Japanese and English, Chinese and Korean. NTT said that 70 percent of users indicated that they would like to user the service again.

NTT said it had enhanced its experimental service with two major upgrades in response to feedback from the first trial. First, the user interface now has a repeat button, which enables the speaker to replay the last interpretation if the other party is unable to hear it. Second, a new start-up procedure enables users to launch the service faster.

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