Microsoft Research has recently developed a new technology set on destroying the language barrier for businesses and individuals, using your own voice as the battering ram. For any business, reaching as many potential clients as possible is essential for growth. Unfortunately, as we grow and look into new markets language can become an artificial barrier to entry. With Microsoft’s new technology, currently titled “Monolingual TTS”, never again would something as simple as language stand in the way of progress.
With Monolingual TTS, Microsoft Research has created a system that records your voice and translates it to another language. Translators are nothing new; just ask any college freshman in Spanish 101. But, before you click on to the next article, listen to this: This translator doesn’t output into plain text, it doesn’t read to you in a robot voice. No, this application sounds exactly like you. That’s right---you can actually hear yourself speaking any of 26-programmed languages, fluently and effortlessly.
After about an hour-long calibration session, the program will quickly learn your inflections, tones, and timbre and use them to create a new, multi-lingual you! The future of communication quickly builds out in our minds. International travel becomes accessible to all, international aide workers can go anywhere at a moment’s notice, and I can finally tell that corner-camping Frenchman where to go in a passionate game of Call of Duty. And remember that business, artificially boxed-in to English speaking countries? They’re making record profits overseas.
While this new development may have implications on how we communicate personally on a global scale, businesses in the U.S. could be the first to benefit from this. Dr. Judy Ann Serwatka, Professor of Management Information Systems at Purdue University, sees the potential for growing businesses.
“[Speaking a foreign language] has become more important over the years as businesses have become more global and the Internet has become more popular as a marketing tool,” she says. Indeed, the internet has brought us closer to one another, and communication with other cultures is increasingly becoming more and more common. So how could this new piece of tech contribute to small businesses?
Dr. Serwatka explains:
“This would definitely be an advantage for those who work in any business that has a customer service orientation,” she says. “It would be useful for dealing with customers who speak a foreign language, or for marketing purposes when trying to get established in a different country.”
In this case, this new tech could serve to be a valuable business tool both for both domestic and global business.
“Businesses need to have employees who can speak another language. This is particularly problematic for small businesses that don't often have that expertise.” Small businesses don’t often have the income to hire highly trained linguists to help expansion; so where can this new development be utilized to help your business?
Let’s say you own a small business in an area that has a large population of Spanish-speakers and your business deals with customer service on a daily basis. This new tech could be utilized over the phone to act as a babble fish and open up your business to more clientele. Now let’s say your business has grown substantially, and you’ve begun entering the global market. Customer service representatives could discuss issues with just about any foreign speaker without knowing 26 different languages.
Not only could this help customer service reps, this could be particularly helpful for the business owner who wishes to do things more hands-on and personal: “the business owner can easily create or respond to messages, rather than depending on someone else do create them.“ You could communicate with a valuable business partner in Beijing, allowing each individual’s personal tone to create a more personal partnership rather than speaking through other people. Well… for the most part.
The Monolingual TTS got its big debut at TechFest this past month, where Microsoft used the Star Trek-like technology to create buzz around their new Microsoft Translator Hub, a free and powerful translation tool built on their cloud-based Azure platform.
Though this tech is a step in the right direction, it’s by no means perfected. The output audio still has a tinge of robot behind it and, like many translators; context can be a bit difficult. So, don’t fire your bi-lingual staff just yet. In the immediate future businesses will still be better off employing people who speak another language, if only to pick up on cultural and inflectional cues that non-native speakers may not catch.
But, bi-lingual job applicants beware, you’re days are looking numbered. As of right now, this new piece of tech is not available for public use. However in the next year, you can bet this technology will pop up in new enterprise software. In the meantime, my Call of Duty nemesis will have to go on unaware of my disdain.