Tokyo 2020 : Machine translation software development gaining pace
Ask the bilingual community (Japanese and any other language) about their views on machine translation and most of the times you will get “It does not work”, “Human expression is varied and machines will never get better at it” so on and so forth.
That is understandable since the bilinguals are referring to the perfection element, which is still difficult for machines to achieve and the bilinguals contribute immensely to fill this specific space to bridge the gap between the two languages.
Ask a tourist on the road what he or she thinks and the response (from our personal experience too) many a times can be understood as “translation need not be perfect, but should give some context and indication”.
Agreed half knowledge is dangerous, but in past four years with the smartphone proliferations and apps which allow you to point your smartphone camera to a particular sign and translate on the fly are catching attention.
We ourselves use the Google Translate camera function on our AQUOS Pad SH-08E to translate words we do not know on brochures, signs, flyers etc. See a Youtube video of the same below
SELF-SERVICE Opportunity : With smartphones and wearable devices, the hardware form factor (to use on a street across the city) has matured and is user friendly, although, accuracy of the translation leaves a lot to be desired. If this can be improvised the primary opportunity is that it brings in the self service model whereby non Japanese speakers can use their own devices, wherever they want, for whatever scenario they are in, without the need for the tourism industry to print brochures and other material in various languages and waste resources.
Global Communication Development Committee: NTT, KDDI, Hitachi, Toshiba and Panasonic announced this month of setting up a committee (Link Japanese only) to develop software which will further improve the quality of the machine translation software. Carriers like NTT and other hardware makers do show prototypes of apps, glasses (wearables) and with the new announcement they intend to speed up the commercialisation process and the maturity of the translation software.
Kawazoe Takehiko (NTT) says that “We consider this to be a big opportunity to develop this new business with the Olympics coming to the city, We will continue to invest in research and development for the Olympics and to meet the needs in the future from a tourism standpoint too”.
Additionally major car manufacturers too are improvising the car navigation system with the translation function attached, in view of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympics.
Equal efforts on building human resources through ENGLISH VILLAGE like initiatives, better translation software will go a long way to help bridge the communication gaps and make Tokyo a friendlier location for tourists in the long run.