Breaking the chat language barrier

Breaking the chat language barrier

You may not speak Vietnamese or Bahasa Indonesian and your foreign friends may not know much English, but you can still get a conversation going smoothly in real time.

All thanks to a new multilingual chat technology developed by the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), which supports instantaneous translation of text in five languages - English, Mandarin, Malay, Bahasa Indonesian and Vietnamese.

If you key in a message in English, your friend in Ho Chi Minh City can see it translated into Vietnamese. And when he responds in Vietnamese, you can read the message in English.

The software can even make sense of common abbreviations used in daily text messaging. Type "R u bz now?" or "Im fine. Tks. And u?" and the software will understand that the user is saying "Are you busy now?" and "I am fine. Thanks. And you?" correspondingly and will translate accordingly.

Ms Aw Ai Ti, I2R's lead researcher on this project, said the software can understand and translate common words individually but the challenge is in translating the words in context when used in actual sentences.

A word such as "rounds", for example, can have multiple meanings, so the software needs to be trained to differentiate the word between different contexts. This learning comes from studying how the word is used in many different sentences.

"The software is smart enough to translate about 85 per cent of commonly used words in the right context," said Ms Aw.

She said the software is constantly taught to understand language better. Her team works with linguists to fine-tune the accuracy of the translation, teaching the machine the basic grammar rules of all five languages.

This multilingual technology was among the 50 home-grown technologies showcased at Media Exploits 2013 held yesterday at Biopolis, where the research institutes hope to find licensees for their tech. Now in its third year, the annual tech showcase is organised by Exploit Technologies, the business arm of Agency for Science and Technology Research (A*Star). A*Star commercialises Made-In-Singapore technologies from a variety of national research institutes.

Also on show was Fashion Match. Fashion buffs can upload a photo of a celebrity or model wearing the latest fashion and the software will scour the Internet for lookalike clothing.

This software has been programmed to understand and recognise attributes of clothing, such as colour, pattern, neckline type, dress length and even sleeve length. Unlike more rudimentary image recognition software in the market, which mainly looks at colour similarity, Fashion Match's advanced smarts lets it deliver a closer match.

It was developed here by the Advanced Digital Sciences Centre (ADSC), a collaboration between A*Star and the University of Illinois in the United States.

Other technologies on show included those that can detect doctored images, and smart image recognition technology that can automatically determine a person's age, gender and sentiment by studying the person's facial features.

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