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One Ring To Translate

People who are deaf or hard of hearing and use sign language to communicate may soon get some extra help when it comes to translation, thanks to a sign language translation ring under development by a group of designers from Asia University.

The device consists of a set of rings and two bracelets that sense and interpret finger, hand and wrist movements made by the user. The signs are translated into words, which are relayed to the user’s conversation partner via a speaker. The device also translates spoken words into writing, which is shown on an LED display on the bracelet.

The sign language ring won the 2013 Red Dot Design award. If it makes it through the development phase and out to the general public, it could provide a streamlined, convenient way to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing interact with the hearing world.

However, as with many high-tech translation concepts, the devil is in the details. Questions remain about how accurately the device will be able to translate sign language. As it stands now, it’s certainly not a replacement for a human interpreter. As Howard Rosenblum, the CEO of US organization the National Association for the Deaf, explained to ABC News:

“American Sign Language encompasses more than what would be measured in the wrist and fingers. ASL relies on wrist movements, handshapes, finger-spelling, body movements and facial expressions. The National Association of the Deaf encourages the developers of this emerging technology to work with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and the hearing community, to ensure that their innovative product meets our needs.”

Despite these drawbacks, if the Sign Language Ring makes it into production, it could be a welcome tool for everyday situations like shopping. What do you think of it?

Photo credit: © | Dreamstime.com

Nokia Translation

Another Week, Another Tech Translation Fail

Last week, Apple was roundly mocked for using the name “Siri” for its new voice-controlled personal assistant.  Apparently, they didn’t bother to see if the name would have any negative connotations in other languages. In fact, it sounds very much like “buttocks” in Japanese and is a particuarly crude way of referring to one’s penis in Georgian.

This week, everybody’s laughing at the expense of Nokia, who recently introduced a new, Windows-based smartphone called the “Lumia.” Sure, “Lumia” vaguely connotes “light” in English, but apparently Nokia didn’t check to see what associations it would bring to mind in other languages. Note to businesses: this is usually a mistake, especially if your company has a global business.

According to MSNBC, the connotations of “lumia” are more shady than they are luminous. The word is apparently a synonym for “prostitute.” Nice! Read more

Translation-Glasses

Glasses that Translate Speech?

It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but according to Reuters, a Japanese company is developing eyeglasses that can translate speech.

The Tele Scouter consists of a pair of eyeglass frames attached to a microphone and a small computer. A tiny display unit is mounted on to the frames. When someone talks to you in a foreign language, the microphone picks up the sound and sends it to be translated. Then, the translated text is sent back and projected into your peripheral vision, so you can read what the other person said while still maintaining eye contact.

Weird, huh? Kotaro Nagahama, a manager at NEC, the company that’s the developing the glasses, explained the potential advantages of the new technology to Reuters:
“With this you don’t have to think about having to translate your own words. All you have to do is speak and you don’t have to do any thinking. You just use your own language.”

Unfortunately, according to PinkTentacle.com, at this point the devices’ translation capabilities are “insufficient for real-world applications.” So, at least for now, the company is focusing on selling the device to businesses and factories, which can use as a hands-free data display device for workers.

Also, it should be noted that even if the devices’ translation capabilities were spot-on, in order for it to truly useful for travelers, both you and the person you are speaking to need to have a pair of these magic glasses. Unless the company plans to incorporate a way to display what you are saying to the other person in their own language, the Tele Scouter appears to only translate one side of the conversation.  According to Reuters, NEC plans to sell the Tele Scouter for a whopping $83,000, so it’s not likely to gain widespread adoption anytime soon.

What do you think-will this idea ever become more than science fiction?

Multilingual SEO

Multilingual SEO

If you’re a native English speaker, then you may believe that the internet is dominated by the English language. Almost all of the computer code, social networking, e-commerce and news sites that are most popular with English speakers were developed in the English-speaking world, and they mesh seamlessly with the language. However, while slightly more than half the web’s content is still written in English, that won’t be true for long. Only around a quarter of internet users have English as their primary language and internet usage of this demographic is growing at a much faster rate.

Most people require or prefer web content that’s written in their native language. For international businesses to really engage with customers they need to have versions of their websites written in each of the languages their customers speak. In some parts of the world, even local businesses have to engage with more than one language group. Read more

Games Computers Play

Can we really teach computers to understand language, like a human can, or are they more like parrots, able to memorize certain words and phrases without actually grasping the meaning?

A new paper presented by MIT researcher Regina Barzilay and her graduate students indicates that computers will one day  have the capability to truly understand human language…perhaps sooner than we think.

To test how well their machine learning system understands written language, the researchers programmed it to teach itself to play the video game “Civilization” by “reading” the game’s user manual.

The results: after reading the manual, the computer won 79 percent of the games it played, as opposed to 46 percent without the manual.
S. R. K. Branavan, a graduate student who worked on the project, explained to MIT News that games like “Civilization” make an attractive way to test out computer intelligence because they are almost as complex as the real world:

“Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity. Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways.”

Read more

Icelandic language

The Future of the Icelandic Language 

The Icelandic language is as close as you can get today to the language of the Vikings. Brought to the Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th century, it is the closest living language to Old Norse.  But is the modern digital age threatening to wipe out Icelandic?

It depends on who you ask.

If the latest headlines are to believed, Icelandic is on its last legs. Here’s a sampling:

Icelandic Language At Risk Of Extinction As Robots And Computers Struggle To Understand It – IFLScience.com
Computers don’t even understand it: Icelandic people worrying their language is facing extinction- Associated Press
Low Wages And Digital Death: Icelandic In Crisis

Is the future really all that bleak? Let’s find out.

Is the Icelandic Language in Danger?

At this point, Icelandic is not endangered.  It’s not even classified as vulnerable or threatened. It’s the official language of Iceland. It has 331,000 native speakers. That may not seem like a lot compared to English. But it’s well over the “magic number” of 35,000 that economist David Clingingsmith recently identified as the number of speakers need to keep a language safe (assuming he’s correct).

And most importantly, Icelanders are still teaching the language to their children.

So why all the alarmist headlines?

Icelandic and the Rise of the Machines (That Speak English)

Over the past decade, Icelanders have become increasingly concerned about the cultural presence of the English language.  Knowledge of English is widespread in Iceland.  Because English is so prevalent on the Internet, Icelandic people (especially Millenials) have more reason to use it than ever before.

Then, there’s the rise of the machines: Siri, Google  Now, Alexa, GPS systems . . . it’s now possible to speak to so many of your gadgets and have them talk back . . . in English. Read more