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Handhelds Hardware

PDA Speech Translator 161

jlowery writes "Not quite as good as a babelfish, but a PDA that does translation is probably better than resorting to hand gestures alone. I could see this as a boon to the tourist who travels to places where English speakers are uncommon."
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PDA Speech Translator

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  • by the man with the pla ( 710711 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:23PM (#7839830)
    The problem with every software that I have used that tries to decipher human language (like Zork or the game included with emacs for X) is that you have to know what words the software understands and in what context.

    I have seen the same problems with automated phone systems that are supposed to recognize a generic voice and I can see the same thing happening here.

    The main difference here though, is that when entering text, you know exactly what you input before pressing enter. With voice recognition software, how do you know that the software "hears" exactly what you say? If you say somethign like "What are my appointments for the thirteenth?" and it hears, "What are my appointments for the thirtieth?" you would be receiving the wrong information.

    I hope this is a success but I don't have my hopes up.

  • Good Grief... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:24PM (#7839842) Homepage Journal
    I could see this as a boon to the tourist who travels to places where English speakers are uncommon."

    Spoken like someone who has never taken a foreign language class. Suppose that thing is going to get the accent right? Emphasis on the right syllable? Not likely, mostly good for translating some text message into the PDA holder's tongue (and doing an Engrish [engrish.com] job of it anyway.)

  • Hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:24PM (#7839846) Homepage Journal
    According to the article, it only works for medical terms so far, and is only 80% accurate. I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't think I'd want to trust any of my medical treatment to such a translation!

    Doctor: "Well, we thought he said pennicillin, not omoxycillin! I'm afraid the infection has run amok!"
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:27PM (#7839887)
    My father has a 2004 Acura TL with Bluetooth cellphone stuff... He was trying to get it to dial a number. What a pain in the ass. It was seriously almost as distracting as hand entering the number. I believe he had to ask it to dial XXX-XXXX 5 or 6 times before it stopped adding in two random zeros.

    Until the machines can be 100% accurate without frustration they are next to useless.
  • by fastdecade ( 179638 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:30PM (#7839914)
    First can we have a PDA that does decent text-to-speech or speech-to-text, preferably both.

    A hardware babelfish will revolutionise human communication later this century, but right now you need both of the above before you can begin to contemplate speech-to-speech. I can't imagine any serious algorithm at this time would attempt direct translation, without an intermediate text translation phase.

    Bit OT: Considering the interest in E-Books, I don't know why music players and PDAs force users to download wave forms when we could just download text and convert using a cheap text-to-speech synth.
  • by Angus Prune ( 660032 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <enurpsugna>> on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:43PM (#7840047)
    It all boils down to confidence. I have to be confident that what I'm doing will work.
    I use a wireless keyboard but Im having to switch back because I find I have to check what I am typing because it doesn't always pick up every keypress
    Voice to text are only of limited use while you have to re-read and correct any mistakes.
    While this is only 80% accurate it can never be trusted. When this works at 95% it won't be trusted. I won't trust that this won't mistake Renal for Venal.

    While this is a great step foward I can't see it being trustworthy for 2006 and I still think the same problems still apply to this as have always applied.
  • by cavebear42 ( 734821 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:45PM (#7840063)
    Forget PDA, I would like any software that can do a decent Speech-to-text. Every year of so I try all the latest stuff. Every year I keep typing. It is more likly that the rest of the world will learn english than we will have an effective translator in real time.
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:45PM (#7840064)
    my experience with voice recognition (yes even your beloved Via-Voice) is that it blows and will for some time. We probably need better speech recognition before we get speech to speech.
  • Re:Good Grief... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:48PM (#7840090) Homepage Journal
    "What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American."

    I know it's a joke, but it's a common complaint aboout Americans. Unfortunately, nobody seems to think about the United States' geography and why most of us are uni-lingual. To the North, we have Canada, which is mostly english speaking. To the south, we have Mexico, which is Spanish speaking, but there's not all that much travelling back and forth like there is with Canada. Worse, they're very accomodating down there, so there isn't a big huge need to speak Spanish. Go much further south than that, and you're spending a great deal of money to get on a flight to do this. (I should know, I've traveled to Brazil twice.)

    This is very different from Europe where you can drive across countries like we can drive across states here. Even if we were bilingual, there wouldn't be a huge screaming need to speak in other languages. It's hard to feel the need to speak other languages when you have to travel overseas to encounter somebody speaking that language.

    Sadly, this factor is never considered. Nope, it's assumed we're just stupid.
  • by shuz ( 706678 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @06:51PM (#7840117) Homepage Journal
    If your willing to not have your speech translated in realtime. Say your willing to wait 5 minutes or so a 95% or better return can be expected. The main reason why these translators aren't accurate a lot of the time is because the algorithm used can only make a limited ammount of passes on each word so that each word is translated in near realtime.
  • Re:Good Grief... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:03PM (#7840232) Homepage Journal
    I suppose it boils down to, whatever country you're in:

    1. Are you happy getting by?
    2. Are you interested in the challencge a language can bring?

    As you say 1 can lead to learning a second language. This can lead to 2. But we may never know.

    IMHO Americans not learning Spanish is damn insular and imperialistic, they are your neighbour, not your slave, so why not put in some effort and try rather than assuming they are accomodating?

    Allow me to be cynical here. People cowtow to the language of commerce. If a lot of german people with a lot of money are visiting your town, you can bet people are learning german to be accomodating. This has much to do with why japanese, chinese, germans, belgians, dutch, italians, indians (asian) and even french, learn the language. The question is, with the blossoming of China's economy, will people turn to learn the business language of China?

  • by fastidious edward ( 728351 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:07PM (#7840265)
    It was seriously almost as distracting as hand entering the number.

    Are you being sarcastic? I can type a number on a numeric keypad much faster than I can say it. The 5-6 times much more than compensates for the time of getting the phone out of my pocket.

    Voice recognition is great, but tactile recognition is also great, as is body movement.

    Until the machines can be 100% accurate without frustration they are next to useless.

    I know I have trouble understanding someone with a heavy Southern-USA accent, like someone else may have trouble with a heavy Scottish accent (as firends have) or heavy London accent (as I can revert to), people are not perfect at understanding people, let alone machines understanding people.

    Voice regognition is not a great saviour and IMHO is years away, in the meantime I'm happy with a numeric keypad.
  • Re:Good Grief... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday December 30, 2003 @07:45PM (#7840622)
    . . .it's assumed we're just stupid.

    No, not stupid, insular and parochial, an opinion which your own post supports.

    Bear in mind though, that it is the behaviour of Americans in other countries that has engendered this reputation, most of whom don't even bother to take the trouble to learn how to say "please" and "thank you" in the language of the nation they're in at the moment.

    My stepfather is in Mexico right now. He spends a minimum of three contiguous months a year there, a practice he has maintained for the past 30 years. One year he stayed there for nearly half of the year. He avoids the tourist places, staying in out of the way local cities and villages of the interior. He is not stupid man. He is a professional writer with a Masters in English from Harvard.

    He knows maybe a dozen words in Spanish.

    This is pure cultural arrogance.

    It is also typical of American behaviour.

  • Aptitude testing is useful, but two other major factors in the success of the US government language schools (there are actually four: The Defense Language Institute in Monterey, the Foreign Service Institute, the CIA Language School, and the NSA Language School) are time and focus. In most other situations, such as high-school or college, people studying a language study it a small fraction of the time. It's one of four or more courses. Class time is 3-5 hours per week. On a typical university schedule, that's a maximum of 130 hours a year in class. In contrast, in the government language schools, language study is the whole show. Students spend 8 hours a day or more on the language (not all in class). That comes to much more time devoted to the language, and there are fewer distractions.

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