back to article Linguists, update your resumes because Baidu thinks it has cracked fast AI translation

AI can translate between languages in real time as people speak, according to fresh research from Chinese search giant Baidu and Oregon State University in the US. Human interpreters need superhuman concentration to listen to speech and translate at the same time. There are, apparently, only a few thousand qualified …

  1. onefang

    Can go wrong, what!

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I'd love to hear how it works with Glaswegian and other places where languages are mixed and the same words pronounced differently - remember Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? Even the sub-titles had sub-titles.

    2. James 51

      @Onefang - Boris, is that you what what!

  2. Anonymous Coward

    SOV off

    Reminds me of the old joke about a crowd of people next to a building site in Berlin watching the foreman berating one of the workers. An English visitor is walking by and is bemused by all these people standing there intently, so he asks one of them what they are doing. The reply is "We are waiting for the verb!"

  3. Alan J. Wylie

    Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I'd like to see how a statistical analysis machine would handle that.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        I'd like to see how a statistical analysis machine would handle that.

        Might I suggest Jurafsky & Martin, Speech and Language Processing? It's a standard introductory textbook in the field.

        After that, there are, of course, thousands of papers available in sources such as arXiv and the ACM DL on the topic of handling ambiguous natural-language parses with statistical techniques. Research in the area goes back at least as far as Shannon.

    2. Joe Harrison

      English is like that. How about prepositions such as "with", like when you just bought something from Ikea.

      "I built a bookcase with a screwdriver."

      "I built a bookcase with Susan."

      Completely obvious to a native speaker but imagine some poor bastard trying to learn English.

      (Of course being Ikea it wouldn't be a book case it would be some word with lots of ä and å, just to complicate matters.)

      1. Steve K Silver badge


        Why does your bookcase have a screwdriver?

        1. Ken 16 Bronze badge

          Re: Also...

          because orange juice was the only mixer it had

      2. amaccuish

        Russia has in interesting solution to this specific example, in that, with a screwdriver is rendered in the pure instrumental case, and with Susan, using a preposition and instrumental, to indicate you are not using Susan to build the bookcase, but that she is accompanying you in the action.

      3. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        A lazy Susan built a lazy susan with the lazy Susan from next door ...

        Bookcases are so last week ...

        That's just sick.

        (I apologise but even I can't work out whether the last one is good or bad ... must be an age thing :-) )

    3. swm Silver badge

      Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

      1. Time passes swiftly.

      2. The time flies around an archery range like arrows.

      3. To time the velocity of a fully laden fly, you time them like you time arrows.

      Xerox had an English language understanding project and had no trouble with sentences like these. The software could come up with all of these parses but needed more context to disambiguate amongst them.

      They had a natural language airline reservation system but had problems like the following:

      "I would like a reservation between Los Angeles and San Francisco."

      "I have a flight leaving at 12:00."

      "Do you have one a little closer to 6:00?"

      "I have a flight leaving at 12:01."

      Actually, there was a flight at 6:00 but the client specified "a little closer" and not "a lot closer."

      Oh, well.

  4. Zog_but_not_the_first

    Beware of rogue programmers...

    "My hovercraft is full of eels..."

    1. cream wobbly

      Re: Beware of rogue programmers...


      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: Beware of rogue programmers...

        I take offence to that remark good sir!

  5. steelpillow Silver badge

    "up to at least five words"

    Now how could any AI translate the subtletites of that near-oxymoron for a Chinese Vulture?

  6. Ken 16 Bronze badge


    Having an instant translator built into your phone is a great idea, a little work to make text to speech more natural and we'll be able to talk to anyone in the world in their own language. This is part of the future we all imagined as children*, isn't it?

    *alright, with jetpacks

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Great!

      Given that I laugh every time my wife leaves a message on my phone and Google "translates" it to text I'm not very excited about this ... as google translate would say "nude envelopment" ...

  7. Primus Secundus Tertius

    Polyglot parliament

    The European Parliament allows members to use their own EU language, and a team of interpreters provides translations into the others. The members know that they have to pause for the interpreters. The result is that oratory is destroyed.

    It is possible to simultaneously listen to the speaker with one ear and to one of the interpreters via a headphone; but that causes remarkable brain strain.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Polyglot parliament

      The European Parliament allows members to use their own EU language, and a team of interpreters provides translations into the others. The members know that they have to pause for the interpreters. The result is that oratory is destroyed.

      Probably a good thing as the pauses let you think about what's said rather than just emotionally reacting to the oratory. Mussolini and Hitler might have had less of an impact if they'd had to wait for translators after every sentence.

  8. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Aye, right

    I've been teaching Scottish idioms to a Spanish translator in Edinburgh for the past year. She just emailed me from Spain saying that compared to her family she is all peely-wally. I doubt Baidu will ever crack Lowland Scots to Spanish.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Aye, right

      Some people are still waiting for a Glaswegian to English translator.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Aye, right

        Still Waiting? Go to Burnistoun.

        1. Ken 16 Bronze badge

          Re: Aye, right


          1. Danny 2 Silver badge

            Re: Aye, right

            Ken, they put up a sandstone statue of Mel Gibson at the Wallace Monument, with the word 'Freedom' chiselled in. Everyone loathed it and vandalised it. So they put up a plinth stating that the sculptor was disabled and we should tolerate the obscenity. Everyone kept on vandalising it. So they put a twelve foot high black steel cage around the statue - there are photos on the internet - which kind of make a mockery of the word 'freedom'.

            I went under the cage and hacked Gibson's nose with a chisel. Then they finally removed it.

            We were also planning on stealing the Wallace sword, again it wouldn't be the first time it was stolen, but we couldn't agree who would store it. It is still there, but have a look at it sometime. It is taller than Gibson.

  9. Paul Johnston

    Insert AI for added interest

    I fail to see this is any advance in Kevin Knight's paper from 1999

    With enough training data you get a better idea of what word follows another or group of others.

    The fun comes with languages with relatively free word order i.e. where subject and objects carry case markers rather than by their position e.g. ones with lots of morphology.

  10. Robert Helpmann??

    Missing a Bit

    Taking an example from the article, I would guess the AI would do fairly well with sentence fragments as it uses predictive analysis for much of its output.

    "Translating between Japanese and German to English and Chinese, therefore, more difficult"

    Would it fill in the implied "is"?

    1. Paul Johnston

      Re: Missing a Bit

      On page 6 of the paper I put a link to it talks about this.

      If you have a series of matched translations and the Russian ones generally have fewer words than the English ones which contains "is" the model "realises" in the Russian copular is implied and so deasl with it.

      The same goes for definite and indefinite articles.

      Clever eh!

  11. James 51
    Big Brother

    Surely the obvious application is to censor conversations in real time?

  12. FlossyThePig

    Lost in translation?

    I remember hearing on the radio an interview with an English/Russian interpreter. During a meeting between an American president and his Russian counterpart, he used the expression “not buying pig in a poke”. This was translated into the Russian equivalent “not buying cat in a bag”. The Russian president replied by talking about cats.

    I can’t remember how the interpreter solved the problem but it would be interesting to get AI to solve it, assuming it had an understanding of idiomatic phrases.

    1. justanotherguynamedtony

      Re: Lost in translation?

      The comment by FlossyThePig put me in mind of an ancient joke...

      A university had just developed a English/Chinese translator. During the dedication ceremony, one of the dignitaries demonstrated the computer by typing in the phrase "Out of sight, out of mind". The machine whirred, clicked, and produced a sheet of paper with Chinese characters on it. Unfortunately, the developers of the machine were absent, and no one at the dedication could read Chinese. So the dignitary told the computer to re-translate what it had output back to English. Again the machine whirred and clicked, and this time produced a page with "Invisible idiot" written upon it.

      Yes, it's a very old joke.

      1. kwhitefoot

        Re: Lost in translation?

        It was English to Russian and back last time I saw it.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    thats so cool i've been waiting for something that can differentiate between the 100 odd conversational shortcut meanings of the word "ne" in japanese.

    Wait a minute.... lets test it first and see. Mines a £50 bet that it cant differentiate.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      >Wait a minute.... lets test it first and see. Mines a £50 bet that it cant differentiate.

      I would happily bet a lot more than that !

      As a regular visitor to Japan, I gave up a long time ago on "blackbox" translators (the sort trash Google translate puts out is laughable .... its cringeworthy to the English-speaking eye, let alone what it comes up with the other way around according to my Japanese friends).

      So I have resorted to keeping a number of plain-old Japanese dictionary apps on my phone, along with embarking on that long journey of learning the Kanji. I know I will never speak the language to any degree of proficiency, but at least I can recognise words and some typical common phrase constructions, and I can take a reasonably well educated guess at what a restaurant menu is telling me ... so at least I won't starve and I get to experience a wider variety of delicious Japanese food.

  14. DavCrav

    "German sentences are constructed with the subject at the front, the object in the middle, and the verb at the end (SOV)."

    In German the verb is the 'second idea'. It is normally considered SVO.

    1. amaccuish

      Technically, for German, it's V2 and SOV.

      1. DavCrav

        "Technically, for German, it's V2 and SOV."

        So, you mean it's 'second idea', like I said?

        Well, technically, German has a "+Scramble" feature on its universal syntax. My personal favourite feature is +Scramble. Which means your trees are built up in the correct way, and then the words can be moved around afterwards.

      2. Ryan 7

        "Technically, for German, it's V2 and SOV."

        I thought it was V2s and Doodlebugs?

  15. Maryland, USA

    So Yoda German was.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The China Syndrome used to be about our inventions surfacing on the other side after it all had gone wrong on our side.

    The modern version would be about the west inventing the basics and then finding AI being used by the super-state to control citizens in ways unimaginable only a few years ago. In fact, with their taking of Tibet, aspirations in the South Asian waters and internment of muslims we may expect them on our shores one day. :-(

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's the Chinese for vapourware?

    > “We don’t have an exact timeline for when this product will be available for the general public, this is certainly something Baidu is working on," Liang said.

    The 1980s just called and wants its vapourware back.

  18. Jan 0


    If I was a linguist, I'd have a 'resumé'.

    (Yes, yes, I know that US people won't understand this comment.)

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