Baidu showed off the speed of its pocket translator for the first time in the United States during an afternoon presentation at MIT Technology Review's EmTech Digital conference in San Francisco.
The Chinese Internet giant has made significant strides improving machine language translation since 2015, using an advanced form of artificial intelligence known as deep learning, said Hua Wu, the company’s chief scientist focused on natural-language processing. On stage, the Internet-connected device was able to almost instantly translate a short conversation between Wu and senior editor Will Knight. It easily rendered Knight’s questions—including “Where can I buy this device?” and “When will machines replace humans?”—into Mandarin, and relayed Wu’s responses in clear, if machine-inflected, English.
(Knight’s own rough Mandarin, however, seemed to be a challenge beyond the device’s current ability.)
The product taps into Baidu’s translation software over the cloud and doubles as a wi-fi hot spot. The company specifically designed the gadget, which currently only converts between English, Chinese, and Japanese, to help tourists more easily navigate foreign cities. Baidu launched the device in December, but so far it can only be leased at travel agencies and airports in China.
Additional languages and markets are likely to come in the future.