Found in translation: Cognitive computing breaking down the language barrier

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Ling Mo CEO Founder Danny MayDanny May, CEO / Co Founder of Lingmo International, 13/6/17

Lost in translation. Not just a charming Bill Murray movie from the early noughties, but an experience all too common in our modern globalised world. As human beings, one of our most fundamental needs is to connect with those around us. This is evident throughout our thousands of years of history, as humans bridged the gaps in their communities – and beyond – with a tool to build these connections: Language.

But what happens when this tool fails? Imagine you are in a country where you don’t speak a word of the common language and something goes wrong? This was my experience whilst on a trip in China, and I lost my passport. Using a translation app, I was speaking with a police officer and in an attempt to say “Hello, how are you”, the app confusingly – and embarrassingly translated to “Hello, I love you”. Although this was the literal translation, it wasn’t quite what I had intended wanted to say.

Although all languages have their own words to say the same thing, we say and understand those words differently. Take ‘cool’ or ‘sick’ for example. Both words have a literal meaning, however, when used colloquially, they can take on an entirely different meaning. Whilst you may be saying how ‘cool’ or ‘sick’ the bar around the corner is, someone who doesn’t quite understand the context may be wondering if the building’s aircon is broken and how that may relate to a possible cold or illness. A similar challenge is faced when encountering different dialects.

IBM Master Inventor Neil Sahota and Ling Mo CEO Danny May

Neil Sahota, IBM Master Inventor (Left) and Danny May, CEO/Co Founder of Ling Mo (Right) at the United Nations AI for Good Summit in Geneva, Switzerland.

After this experience in China I started to think – slang is getting more and more prevalent in our daily conversations and these basic translation apps are simply going to get left behind. We needed something that could not only translate language literally, but with context as well. With that, Lingmo International was born. By leveraging IBM Watson’s capabilities, Lingmo is today launching a first of a kind translation earpiece that enables real-time translation across eight of the world’s most common business languages, without requiring mobile phone connectivity. Now that we have access to cognitive technologies like that of IBM Watson, we can train the technology on these local slang nuances, and translate a conversation far beyond the literal word for word translation, but with context and natural language.

This device will bring us one step closer to conquering one of the great divides that is language, and open up new pathways of communication in travel, business and politics. People are at their best when they are connected to one another, and this device offers a new pathway for people around the globe to do just that.


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