What is Speech to Speech Translation?


No longer in the realm of science fiction, the concept of a real-time universal translator is currently in the works as pioneering companies such as Google and Facebook are acquiring and developing technologies that support speech recognition, language translation, and speech synthesis. In 2006, an advancement that led to the development and use of layered models of inputs, termed deep neural networks (DNN), brought speech recognition to its highest level of accuracy yet, clearing the way for speech-to-speech translation. As a result, today’s consumers are habitually interacting with voice-activated virtual assistants on their mobile phones and even in their vehicles with greater ease and comfort. Researchers are now applying DNN to automatic translation engines in efforts to increase the semantic accuracy of interpreting the world’s languages, and Microsoft engineers have already demo-ed software that can synthesize an individual’s own voice in another language, from English to Mandarin. Progress in machine learning technologies is bringing the universal translator closer to the consumer’s hand, and is poised to transform communication and collaboration at the global level.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • One of the most powerful types of learning and engagement that I've ever observed in the K12 space is when students from different cultures and languages connect to try and work on a project. While this has occurred only sparingly using our TelePresence, and connecting to other countries/languages/cultures, it is powerful. With speech to speech technology, coupled with the audio/video synchronous quality of TelePresence, experiences that are hard to imagine could be created in K12 learning/schooling. Assuming that the need for skills to work globally is real, a good quality of speech to speech technology, could be transformative. (- jbillings jbillings May 21, 2015)
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • A consumer theme is present, but no theme on learning, teaching, K12. (- jbillings jbillings May 21, 2015).
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry?

  • Model Thinking research suggests that many of the more complex problems are best solved through diversity. Speech to speech could remove a differing languages challenge whilst diverse people collaborate in solving complex problems. From that standpoint, the potential impact could be big. (- jbillings jbillings May 21, 2015)
  • Directly in K12 are significant programs for English Language Learners (ELL) type models. Currently, significant amounts of funds are invested and time required to teach students English. This technology could disrupt the logistics, perhaps even the immediate need for these types of programs. Another component of disruptive impact is to the language translation service functions of K12. For example, we have over 50 different languages in our district. Funds are required to translate (written and verbal) languages to parents/guardians of the students. There are very robust yet costly services for instantaneous speech dialog of teacher and parent, either through a face to face meeting or phone conversations. Speech to speech technology could disrupt the current technology. (- jbillings jbillings May 21, 2015)
  • I'm seeing potential impact to Foreign Language course in K12. Would they increase or decrease in enrollment if/when this technology reaches a tipping point? (- jbillings jbillings May 21, 2015)
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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