AT&T is currently pilot testing a new service on their teleconference system that translates speech between languages in real time. Mazin Gilbert, the assistant vice president for technical research at AT&T Labs-Research, has had a lot of say about this new service.

The inspiration for the Translator came from the need to break down language barriers in global communications. AT&T envisioned a world where an individual could pick up the phone and talk to anyone in the world, regardless of language. It hasn’t been an easy goal. The prototype required more than two decades of research in speech recognition, speech synthesis, and natural language processing.

New AT&T Service Translates Languages in Real Time

Image source: AT&T


Currently, the Translator can recognize English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Twelve other languages are hoped to be added to the system over time.

The user experience is relatively straightforward—the user calls into the conferencing server and sets his/her native language. What that person hears and reads is in his/her native language, but the audience will receive the message in their own native language. While simple in theory, developing the technology to achieve the real-time nature of this has been an ongoing challenge.

While challenging, the opportunities for this type of service are endless.

To read the interview with Gilbert about the AT&T Translator, visit Popular Mechanics.

You can also try the translator out for yourself!