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Are Machines Ready to Break Down Language Barriers?

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Even in an era of global networks and cheap travel, international communication still faces one great barrier: we don't all speak the same language. But that gap is narrowing as online translation services advance.

Recently launched website Meedan translates Arabic-language news stories into English, and vice versa, and displays the two versions alongside each other. Comments in either language are instantly translated. A new site for bloggers, called Mojofiti, automatically makes posts available to readers in 27 languages. And Google now has a tool that will eventually allow anyone with a camera-phone to photograph, say, a German restaurant menu, send the image as a multimedia message to Google's servers, and get an English translation sent back to them.

All these services ultimately rely on a technique called statistical machine translation, in which software learns to translate by using brute mathematics to compare large collections of previously translated documents. It then uses the rules it has learned this way to determine the most likely translation in future.

From New Scientist
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