Amazon today announced and launched a nifty new feature for Alexa, a built-in live translator. Now, select devices will be able to use Amazon’s assistant to serve as an interpreter between a limited pair of languages in real-time (via XDA Developers).
You’ll be able to use Live Translation with one of six language pairs, including English and Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, or Hindi. It’ll only be made available on Echo devices with their regions set to English U.S, at the moment.
Amazon explained how the feature worked on Monday, saying:
The Live Translation feature leverages several existing Amazon systems, including Alexa’s automatic-speech-recognition (ASR) system, Amazon Translate, and Alexa’s text-to-speech system, with the overall architecture and machine learning models designed and optimized for conversational-speech translation.
The company further broke it down, explaining that it would run two ASR models in parallel while trying to identify one of the languages being spoken with a third one. Doing it this way reduces delay and aims to provide a natural listening experience for the person awaiting a translation. The dual ASR data also helps in cases of identifying language patterns spoken by a non-native speaker.
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Amazon has also done a bit more work in making the experience feel more natural, including integrating certain breaks and pauses that can be expected from human speakers into the translation process.
Many people pause mid-sentence to finish a thought, so Alexa will take that into account, for instance. Building a live translator like this is hard, but Amazon’s work with voice processing on Alexa and the Echo, its work with text-to-speech, and other adjacent projects are all being pulled together to make the first iteration of this project.
You can read the full technical explanation here.
Google launched a similar feature known as Interpreter Mode almost exactly a year ago. The company has now expanded its feature to support up to 29 languages and has hooked up with businesses worldwide for practical applications of this technology. Unlike Amazon’s Live Translation mode, Google’s interpreter mode also works with phones and other Assistant-enabled devices. Amazon may reach that point eventually. This is just a launch, and Alexa’s rapid growth over the years means it’s likely to catch up sooner rather than later.
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