Wednesday, August 23, 2006

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A BROTHER-HUD OF MAN


Watch the Video (Requires Windows Media Player, or watch the YouTube version.)

So pretty much on a lark, a guy named Yossarian Seattle sat down and whipped up something that could change the world.

"It started off with me wanting to have a go at building a heads-up display for a bit of fun," he says to me via IM. "That coupled with the fact that I'm doing some real life work with translation at the moment brought about the idea."  Relatively new to Second Life, Yossarian first did some digging to see if someone else had used SL's XML capabilities to create a translator, and not finding any*, he began creating one of his own. 

"Given that the number of non-English speakers is increasing all the time [in SL], I figured it would be a handy tool to have," he continues.  (Indeed, nearly 40% of Second Life residents are now from outside the US)

Still in Beta, Yossarian's translator operates through a HUD that attaches to your display, allowing you to quickly switch between 10 languages.  During an impromptu trial run yesterday, I happened to spot SL visionary Gwyneth Llewelyn in-world, and knowing she was in Portugal, I called her over to an oceanside, and started chatting in her native tongue.

A video of our conversation is here-- view as a Windows Media file for best quality, or via YouTube here.  As you'll see, simple sentences come across more or less coherently, while the translation starts running off the rails, the more complex they become. What's striking is how quickly each of our sentences is translated, coming and going, processed in less than a second.

"I'm using the httprequest [script] capabilities of SL to call out to external translation services via my own website," Yossarian tells me.  "[It's] pretty fast (about 0.1 seconds) thus the translator speed." He sends the data out to his website, where it's run through several on-queue translation services like Babelfish, then returns to the world in less than a breath.

And just like that, untold vistas of possibility emerge.  Because if interacting as avatars is more emotionally engaging to us than watching video or reading words on a screen (and that seems to be the case), and if doing so with people from different countries around the world improves our attitudes toward them (and that too, seems to be true), what happens when yet another international barrier to direct communication is broken down?

Yossarian Seattle's HUD comes in ten languages, and so far, in addition to Portuguese, I've tried French, German, and Chinese with residents who speak those tongues-- each time, they've been at least partially successful.  (There doesn't even seem to be any delay displaying Asian or Arabic language characters, either.)  Switching from one to another is a simple single-click on the desired country icon, and the translation channel adjusts immediately. 

Here's a run-through of speaking the same sentence in ten tongues, in under 60 seconds:


Watch the Video (Lower quality YouTube version here)

To be sure, there's still many translation kinks to work out, and diplomats engaged in high-stakes negotiations are not likely to use Yossarian's HUD any time soon.  Still, it's already more than adequate for casual speech.  (And with enough people using his HUD, you have to think a database of commonly-used sentences could be compiled and Google-ized into a powerful, folksonomic translator.) 

The chief impediment now, as it turns out, is cost.

"If I was to distribute it widely," Yossarian Seattle explains, "then a charge would be needed to cover my website hosting costs.  The bandwidth could get quite high with a large number of users."  So he's thinking it'll be sold on a commercial basis.  As with other things, lowering one barrier to world understanding raises another, but this time at least, one has to believe it's a worthwhile climb.

* Note:  There are at least two other resident-created translator devices in various stages of Beta development, from Hank Ramos and Max Case (pictured below), whose delayed Babbler has existed in some form for over a year.

Meeting_max

Music for the translator videos, again and always, generously provided by Torley; this time, the appropriately entitled track "The Promise", from his voluminous and excellent collection of cuts.

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csven

I happened across another translator this past weekend in one of the sandboxes. Without doubt, simple (although sometimes simplistic) translation is one of the more interesting developments. I would expect that some enterprising individuals will incorporate this tech into some teaching systems. If SL had built-in voice communication, people could already be teaching each other languages in ways we've not really seen.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

Pfft Hamlet, you failed to add that the real fun just began when Eggy Lippmann joined us on that improptu meeting and started to throw broken slang at the translator — we were both laughing so hard that I had to leave my computer, reach to the window, breathe in some fresh air and try to calm down, easily scaring my neighbours with all the mad laughter, coming in guffaws :)

Eggy even missed his train with so much laughter ;)

As Csven said, Timeless Prototype has a similar thingy inside his famous Multitool, and yes, people on Help Island are using that all the time. Currently, it seems to be quite right that half of the new users come from non-English speaking countries, German and Spanish (and sometimes Portuguese from Brazil) being at the very top of the list. Most don't understand enough English to even press the buttons of the UI — and those translators, despite often being hilarious, are very often the only thing that allows us to communicate with those users, at least to a point where they understand how to get in touch with similar speakers of their mother language, and get help from there.

I must say, this has worked wonders with Argentinians and Brazilians :) Once they overcome the angst from an UI in a language they are clueless in, and get in touch with their national groups, they'll happily stay in SL for a *long* time!

So, yes, we need more and better translators — but even the ones we've got, are a very welcome first start!

Iris Ophelia

/me is laughed

I did a project for a class once, where I wrote paragraphs about several countries like a travel agent, translated them into that country's national language with babelfish, then translated them back. Sometimes the message gets across, and sometimes...... less so. Nevertheless I'm pleasantly surprised that it handled "My hovercraft is full of eels" so well!

rikomatic

It's great that people are working on these translation tools in SL. While the international growth rate is very encouraging, much more concerted effort is going to be need to stop the spread of more "walled garden" communities seperated by language.

This is perhaps inevitable as SL starts to look more like the web (and the world.) But someone really needs to create a Global Village sim or an SL United Nations where we can more easily interact with people from other countries. I'd be happy to put my weight and energy behind making that happen.

Gauisus Speculaas

Wow. I loved viewing the video and I love Iris's notion. I'd also like to see SL more user-friendly to the under-teenage set. I know a teacher into distance learning :) who could so get into international interactions inside an education-only sim...Guess I need to go post to the, um, I guess not to the forums... Cheers to all! And I'd love to join in on the beta. I'll look for that invite, LOL...

csven

As an aside, what the hell is the matter with YouTube??? First they make us register to embed video. Now... NOW... I can no longer embed it because WordPress isn't part of their new system. Someone slap them for me. It's smart to gain marketshare and all, but they have to hold onto it as well. They're losing me.

/rant

Hamlet Au

That's partly why I also put the video on BlipTV-- YouTube is great for many things, but its video quality is so low-res, the chat text was difficult to read.

Robbie D

That's great. Should be a built in feature!

(As should also be [The Dialectizer] perhaps? - Which does an interesting job at translating this article to [Jive] and [Redneck]).

Memory Harker

"A Brother-HUD of Man"

o.O

"Brother-HUD"

O.o

Hamlet, I think you need to become personally acquainted with a certain Spanking animation ...

"Brother-HUD"

omg

Krisjohn Twin

If there was a standard for tagging what you're typing with the language you're typing it in, everyone could install their preferred translator plug-in/HUD to process everything that pops up in their chat window. Once the translation improves a little it won't matter what language people are chatting in.

Crunchie Calamari

Hi all,
Further to this article, I have been selling a HUD based babelfish translator on SLExchange for over a month now. The bandwidth is very low per request so I can charge L$50 per unit and still cover my costs. I've sold about 30 so far and have barely noticed the added traffic to my webserver. Also, Sly Axon's Multi Gadget used to have a beta translator included, but I'm not sure if it still does. Its here if you'd like to take a look:
http://www.slexchange.com/modules.php?name=Marketplace&file=item&ItemID=114578

Torley Linden

I've been using both YouTube and blip.tv and have been using the latter more precisely because it doesn't recompress my videos, as Hamlet mentioned. YouTube videos are pretty artifact-chocked.

*goes to download the video*

On a related note, who's checked out this Japanese Second Life wiki? :)

http://secondlife-wiki.main.jp/modules/pukiwiki/

epredator potato

A great article, Yossarian is getting married today in Real life http://eightbar.co.uk/2006/08/25/yossarians-wedding-gift/
So this is a great present

Ferd Frederix

The usege of translators in Second Life has grown has grown. The Ferd's Free Translator reached over 50,000 users this weekend.


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The bandwidth could get quite high with a large number of users." So he's thinking it'll be sold on a commercial basis. As with other things, lowering one barrier to world understanding raises another,

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