Microsoft Unveils Improved Translation Tool

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft is currently developing a new English-to-Chinese translation tool that is said to dramatically improve on previous offerings of its kind.

Even more exciting, some observers believe the software giant may also be working on a Star Trek-like 'universal translation tool.'

In a recent blog post, Microsoft Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid discussed the new translation software and the challenges the company faces in developing it.

Rashid indicated the solution to the combined difficulties of replacing English words with their Chinese equivalents and then correctly adjusting for Chinese grammar and sentence structure broke new ground for translation programs. (Source:

Error Rate Declines 30 Per Cent

According to Rashid, the new software offers a significant improvement over the accuracy of existing English-to-Chinese translation tools. In fact, Rashid says the error rate of Microsoft's new software is approximately 30 per cent lower than existing translation systems.

Put more simply, the current generation of translation programs make about one error for every five words spoken. Microsoft's new software technology is said to improve that to a ratio of one error for every seven words spoken.

This means that in a 500 word document, existing software would be expected to make 100 errors while the new Microsoft translator would be expected to make about 70.

Rashid says this jump in accuracy marks the most significant breakthrough in translation software technology in more than thirty years.

Some of the credit for the advancement in this translation software should go to University of Toronto researchers, who in recent years have worked with the Redmond, Washington-based firm on developing the software. (Source:

Microsoft also says that, unlike many of the translation programs on the market right now, its software will preserve the speaker's natural voice.

Universal Translation Tool Coming?

Rashid said he feels the advancements -- which he recently showed off at Research Asia's 21st Century Computing event in China -- are "very promising." Even so, he suggested the new software could remain in development for another year or more.

He did make one monumental suggestion, however, that could change the way we view and interact with the global community:

"We may not have to wait until the 22nd century for a usable equivalent of Star Trek's universal translator," a hopeful Rashid told his audience. "We can also hope that as barriers to understanding language are removed, barriers to understanding each other might also be removed." (Source:

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