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AT&T Trials Text-Message Translation

•, Tom Simonite

Just because you can't speak another language doesn't mean you can't text in it. Mobile network AT&T is trialing technology that lets customers send and receive text messages that are automatically translated from English to Spanish and back. A person simply registers a phone number as having a preferred language. Messages sent to that number in a different language are then automatically translated before being relayed to the person's phone.

"If my friend sends me a message in Spanish, then AT&T recognizes the language and translates it to English," says Mazin Gilbert, vice president for intelligent systems research at AT&T Labs in Florham Park, New Jersey. Gilbert helped develop the system. "Then I can send back in English, and it is translated into Spanish for her. We can go back and forth and have a conversation—we're trying to break down language barriers between people."

Gilbert demonstrated the system at the AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto, California, where AT&T collaborates with outside companies and researchers on new technology.
The current version of the technology only handles translation between English and Spanish, but AT&T has already deployed technology capable of handling six more languages in existing products, says Gilbert, so they could easily be added to the text message translation system.

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