If you are an ordinary man or woman and you can speak English as a first or second language, you may think that language technologies are useless and produce low quality. In addition, if you are a translator you may feel like language technologies are either distracting you from the actual translation work or taking you out of business. And if you are a developer you may be fascinated by all the unutilized possibilities in the language technology field.
However, modern language technologies are not only fancy gadgets for technology geeks or tools to play with. These technologies and tools can bring very valuable help to people who have limited language skills or some kind of physical disability. In the best scenario, a piece of technology can enable communication and prevent exclusion. Communication is a human right and if there is a gadget for that, it makes the world a little bit more equal. Let’s see how different language technologies can help with this mission.
Speech synthesis is a technology which produces speech from a piece of text automatically. This isn’t a new innovation, and for example navigators already talk to us. The output of speech synthesis sounds still a bit mechanical but soon there will be technologies that sound just like you or your friend. These technologies have many potential use cases. From business point of view, speech synthesis can be used, for example, to keep phone services fast and queues short, but on the personal level the possibilities are even greater.
There are people who are in danger to lose their own voice due to some illness or other physical reason. With speech synthesis they could save their voice. It could be priceless for their identity and self-esteem. Likewise, decreased vision or lack of literacy can be compensated with artificial speech. This way these groups of people will get an access to all the written information and knowledge. When the quality of the voice gets better these technologies will become more humane and user-friendly.
Speech recognition is already widely used. It is a technology which transcripts speech into written text. Currently, the health care sector is already testing speech recognition in the writing of medical records. Actually, every voice-operated machine uses this kind of technology. There are already TVs and other devices, like Google Glass or Apple’s SIRI, which can be used with vocal commands. If you have ever tried any of these machines and tools you may have noticed that the technology isn’t flawless yet. Maybe in the future none of us needs to type text with a keyboard because we can speak and let the technology do the writing for us. Gadgets like that could also help people with any type of hearing disability.
Machine translation breaks down language barriers by translating text from one language to another automatically. No one knows how many languages there are exactly but it is a fact that there isn’t any language that everyone on the globe would understand. The overall education level correlates directly with the language skills. This means that the less educated people suffer from the language barrier the most. Luckily there are volunteers to help but there aren’t enough of them. Thus, machine translation may be the only option for many people.
Using these three technologies still require some literacy. This is why the most beneficial solutions would combine all these language technologies. Unfortunately, there are very few actual products yet. The current results are promising though, and we may see fantastic innovations in the markets soon. Meanwhile we can enjoy Microsoft’s demonstration of their solution:
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