Voice recognition technology : Are dreams of a real babbel fish becoming true?

Microsoft has just announced a new voice recognition technology that not only translates what you’re saying into another language, rearranges the words into the other language’s correct order but also plays back the results using your own voice (see demo after the jump), making it that much more realistic. Is this going to enable us to speak Chinese without having to actually learn Chinese?

Using a technique called deep neural networks, Microsoft’s new step in computers understanding and reproducing human speech, touted a “speech recognition breakthrough”, is said to have a greatly improved accuracy, making dreams of removing language barriers suddenly more tangible.

Is Voice recognition the future of language learning?

Microsoft’s first presentation of this technique was from English to Chinese, as you can see in the video above (no video? it’s here). Which got us thinking. Is this going to enable you to speak Chinese without having to actually learn Chinese?

Personnally, we’re torn. We’re big fans of the deeper and deeper integration of technology into our lives. If a software can make things easier for a lot of people, great. It’s easy to dream up positive applications for breakthroughs like this.

But at the same time, are we ready to fully trust technology to speak for us? Are we ready to give up learning a language? We think not.

Can machines understand cultural codes?

Do you think our English way of presenting things can be simply and mechanically translated into Chinese? Chinese have their very own way of putting things, of asking questions; just like we do in English. Cultural aspects, like not losing face, have a lot to do with the way one asks for something in Chinese, for instance.

Do you think machines will ever be able to translate the cultural codes that go hand in hand with speaking a language? Speaking a language is more than just translating words and syntax; it’s also a question of understanding another’s culture. Now, if a software can help us speak Chinese AND avoid unintentional cultural mishaps, we’re in.

Maybe we’d rather learn the language ourselves

Although… isn’t using a phone or a computer to express your feelings instead of trying to voice them yourself already a bit awkward? Can you imagine using a machine to whisper sweet things to your boyfriend or girlfriend? What happens when your battery runs out and you’re in the middle of a camping trip?

So yeah… instead of replacing the need to learn a country’s language and its culture, we still feel technology should be a tool to help us learn a language. For now. Maybe we’ll change our minds when we’re able to directly download Chinese into our brains :).

What do you think? Is voice recognition the future of learning?

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