Translation Tech in 2015

Beyond continued fragmentation of languages on the internet driven by internet/mobile growth —now 80% of users do not understand English — 2015 was an amazing year for machine learning. The revolution is supposedly coming to NLP next. It is already impacting speech recognition.

Deep Learning x Translation?

But natural human language is complex —I share the view that the hardest problems will take more than deep learning (brute force) [1] [2] [3]. So despite 2015 being the year of intelligent virtual assistants from x.ai to Facebook M to Viv Labs to Microsoft Cortana for iOS and Android, the tech in prod still relies on a mix of humans and hand-coded templates.


The Big Players

Microsoft rolled out real-time voice-to-voice translation in Skype.

In Q1, Twitter officially re-launched integrated translation, similar to that of Facebook and Google+. (Twitter had unlaunched the feature years ago because of quality problems.) Twitter translation, like that of Facebook and many others, is powered by Microsoft.

Android made it easier for apps to integrate Google Translate. And Google Translate rolled out a smoother translation of speech and images. The growing importance of mobile input methods drove their 2014 acquisition of Word Lens and these latest launches.

Overall Google put more emphasis on crowdsourcing while silently launching language detection of uncorrected input (like translit and Pinyin), and actual automatic correction of uncorrected input.

It’s subtle but very important — informal and dirty data are the reality. When this feature comes to mobile, and for all languages, the impact will be massive.


Translation Startups and Acquisitions

In Q2 Amazon acquired Safaba to create their MT R&D group, and in Q3 Alibaba acquired Fanyi 365. Both startups used crowdsourcing.

These echoed eBay’s aquisition of AppTek’s Germany-based translation team a year before. Then Unbabel launched more intelligent crowdsourcing.

To end the year, Lilt, another startup founded by former Google Translate engineers, launched a new and amazing experience for professional translators.