MrSeb writes: "At an event in China, Microsoft Research chief Rick Rashid has demonstrated a real-time English-to-Mandarin speech-to-speech translation engine. Not only is the translation very accurate, but the software also preserves the user’s accent and intonation. We’re not just talking about a digitized, robotic translator here — this is firmly within the realms of Doctor Who or Star Trek universal translation. There is, of course, a lot of technological wizardry occurring behind the scenes. For a start, the software needs to be trained — both with a few hours of native, spoken Chinese, and an hour of Rick Rashid’s spoken English. From this, the software essentially breaks your speech down into the smallest components (phonemes), and then mushes them together with the Chinese equivalent, creating a big map of English to Mandarin sounds. Then, during the actual on-stage presentation, the software converts his speech into text, his text into Mandarin text, and then the Rashid/Chinese mash-up created during the training process is used to turn that text into spoken words. The end result definitely has a strong hint of digitized, robotic Microsoft Sam, but it’s surprising just how much of Rashid’s accent, timbre, and intonation is preserved."