Trend That Has Affected Me

The recent technological trend that has affected lives of many people is the presentation of a real-time translation of the human speech to the wider public, which has provided people with the ability to communicate with individuals from other countries, namely Mexico, disregarding the language barriers completely. In particular, this event is related to the launch of Skype Translator in 2015 – an add-on for Skype (an instant messaging service supporting video calls) that uses the technology of speech recognition and automatic translation. In addition, the add-on boasts the learning function, that is, the more people use it, the more correct is the translation (Pavlus, 2015). 

The technology of the real-time translation that is used in Skype Translator involves the phases described below. The first of them is the automatic speech recognition, i.e. the conversion of the user’s speech to text. Speech processing starts with evaluating the quality of speech signal, namely the definition of the level of noise and distortion. The evaluation result is supplied to the speaker adaptation module, which controls the calculation of speech parameters, required for the recognition. The parts containing speech elements are allocated and their parameters are estimated. In particular, a selection of phonetic and prosodic probability characteristics for the following syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic analysis is carried out. In other words, the information about the parts of speech, word form, and statistical relationships between words is analyzed. Next, the parameters of speech are entered into the main unit of the recognition system – the decoder. This component matches the input speech stream with the information stored in the acoustic and language models, and determines the most probable sequence of words, which is the end result of recognition stage (Bowker, 2002).

The next phase involves the machine-assisted translation of the acquired data from one language to another. Judging by the learning ability that is inherent in Skype Translator, it is clear that it uses a statistical machine translation, i.e. the process is based on a comparison of large amounts of language pairs. Language pairs are the texts that contain the sentences written in a certain language and the corresponding linguistic constructions in another language. These pairs can either be the spellings of the two sentences by a bilingual person or a set of sentences and their translation to another language that was performed by a human. Thus, statistical machine translation has the property of self-learning. The more language pairs are at its disposal and the more accurately they match each other, the better is the result of statistical machine translation. It should be noted that the term statistical machine translation refers to a common approach related to solving the problem of translation, which is based on finding the most suitable translation of a sentence by using data from bilingual corpus. As an example of such bilingual corpus, it is possible to refer to the parliamentary reports. The bilingual parliamentary reports are published in Canada, Hong Kong and other countries. At the same time, the official documents of the European Economic Community are published in several languages, as well as those published by the United Nations. As a result, these materials constitute an invaluable resource for statistical machine translation (Bowker, 2002).

 

Thus, the user speaking a certain language (e.g. English) says something into the microphone and the speech recognition module recognizes it. The input data is compared with phonological models, consisting of a large number of speech libraries. By using the vocabulary and grammar of a particular language, the data is converted into a string of words. A transfer module automatically converts the string. As was mentioned before, the system does not use a method of literal translation but takes into account the entire context of the phrase to produce the corresponding translation. The data corresponding to the phrase is selected, combined, and displayed to the bearer of another language in the required form (synthesized voice), (e.g. Spanish) (Bowker, 2002).

The trend of a real-time translation of human speech has appeared recently, with its history starting in 2012. It appeared at the time when the program for the automatic speech interpretation was developed in the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany). Its primary purpose was to translate oral lectures of teachers of the institute from German into English and display the translated text in the form of subtitles (Kitano, 2012). In the same year, Microsoft has developed a system for automatic, almost simultaneous, voice translation from English to Mandarin. The system used machine learning, based on Deep Neural Networks, which reduced the lack of understanding to each seventh or eighth word. However, its greatest achievement was successful generation of speech with the ability to preserve the modulations of the speaker’s voice (Microsoft Corporation, 2012). Finally, by the end of the year, the Japanese mobile operator NTT DOCOMO has launched an online service that allowed its users to speak different languages and communicate in real time. Besides Japanese, the service supported English, Korean, and Chinese languages (Kitano, 2012).

The historical impact of this technological trend is yet to be defined due to the fact that it has been made available to the wide public only recently. However, its relevance cannot be overestimated. In particular, the globalization has brought together many different cultures, which to date could never have any desire for intercultural interaction. The first and most direct manifestation of such a meeting of cultures has become an unexpected increase in demand for translators and translation services. There is no doubt that the world is becoming increasingly globalized and the driving force behind this phenomenon is the emergence of the Internet, IP-telephony, fax machines, satellite television, and mobile phones. However, the most obvious modern trend is related to the fact that globalization has brought the problem of language barrier to the forefront. This stage of cultural interaction can be illustrated by the example of the European Union. In the EU, there are twenty officially recognized languages, and during the session of the European Parliament, all its members are in need of the services of about 60 interpreters to be able to communicate with each other. Currently, the organization employs approximately 2,000 interpreters and translators (Kitano, 2012). At the same time, the new technological trend allows overcoming a communication barrier in the form of different languages spoken by people, thus making a significant contribution to the process of the society’s globalization.

Trend That Is Interesting To Me

The most interesting technological trend that has emerged only recently is the three-dimensional (3D) printing. Despite the fact that it is often mentioned in the media, for most people, it still remains somewhat elusive, distant, and unclear. However, such attitude towards this trend is far from being rational. After all, the global market of 3D printers is on the rise, and is expected to reach a volume of 20 billion dollars in the next five years. At the same time, the possibilities presented by this trend are almost limitless (Barnatt, 2013).

In general, 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of creating three-dimensional solid objects of virtually any geometric shape on the basis of the digital model. 3D printing is based on the concept of creating an object with consistent layers of material that map the contours of the model. In fact, 3D printing is the antithesis of the traditional methods of mechanical production and processing, such as milling or cutting, when the formation of the product is based on the removal of the excess material (the so-called subtractive manufacturing). The models produced by the additive method may be employed at any production stage – from prototyping (i.e. rapid prototyping) and up to their use as the finished products (the so-called fast production) (Lipson & Kurwan, 2013).

Basic principles of the 3D printing are as follows; first of all, the 3D models are generated either by manual computer graphic design or 3D scanning. The process of manual modeling (the preparation of geometric data to create three-dimensional computer graphics) somewhat resembles a sculpture. 3D scanning is the automatic collection and analysis of the real object, namely its shape, color, and other characteristics, with its subsequent conversion to a digital three-dimensional model. At the same time, the generation of 3D models may be difficult for the average user. In recent years, a proliferation of 3D printing marketplaces was observed. The most well-known examples of such services include Shapeways, Thingiverse, and Threeding. Building a 3D model with the help of current technology takes from several hours to several days, depending on the generation method, as well as the size and complexity of an object. The industrial additive systems can usually cut the time to a few hours but it still depends on the model of the printer, as well as the size and number of products that are manufactured (Lipson & Kurwan, 2013).

During printing, the printer reads the 3D print file (usually in the STL format), comprising a three-dimensional model data, and creates the successive layers of material, building a three-dimensional object from a series of cross-sections. These layers, which are formed in accordance with the virtual cross-sections in a 3D model, are connected or fused together to create the desired shape of the object. The primary advantage of this method is the ability to create very complex geometric shapes. At the same time, the result heavily depends on the specifications of a 3D printer. In particular, its resolution refers to the thickness of the applied layers (Z axis) and the positioning accuracy of the print head in horizontal plane (X and Y axis). The resolution is measured in DPI (dots per inch) or micrometers. The typical value of this parameter is 250 DPI, although some devices, like Objet Connex and 3D Systems ProJet, are able to create very thin layers (1600 DPI). The resolution of X and Y axis is similar to the performance of conventional two-dimensional laser printers, ranging from 510 to 250 DPI (Lipson & Kurwan, 2013).

Although the current printer resolution is sufficient for most projects, printing the objects with slightly topped measurements and their subsequent subtractive processing with precision tools allows to create the models of high accuracy. Moreover, some methods of additive manufacturing include the use of multiple materials, as well as different colors in a single production cycle (Lipson & Kurwan, 2013).

Although the 3D printing technology has appeared in the 1980s, the wide commercial distribution of 3D printers has begun only in the 2010s. In 1984, Charles Hull has developed the technology of stereolithography for printing 3D objects from the photopolymerisable composite materials. A year later, it was proposed to form three-dimensional models from the layers of sheet material: polyester, composites, plastics, paper, etc. The layers were bonded together by using the heated roller. In 1988, the first 3D printer was put into production for a wide range of users. In 2005, the first 3D printer with high-quality color printing was developed. Three years later, the 3D printers have obtained the ability to use several different materials at once. Nowadays, the number of such materials has exceeded one hundred. Finally, in 2012, the personal 3D printer for home use has been introduced to the wide audience, marking the emergence of the new technological trend (Barnatt, 2013).

The historical impact of 3D printing on the society can be described as paramount. Indeed, only in few years, the range of its use has broadened significantly. Nowadays, 3D printing techniques are used for prototyping and manufacturing the finished products is such spheres of activity as architecture, industrial design, automotive and aerospace industry, bioengineering (the creation of artificial tissues), manufacturing of clothing, footwear, and jewelry, education, geographic information systems, food industry, and many other fields. According to the studies, open-source 3D printers for personal use will help to win back the capital cost of the materials’ acquisition at the expense of the cheap domestic production of items. Of course, certain traditional manufacturing methods may be more cost-efficient in the case of a large-scale manufacturing of polymer products. However, the additive technologies provide the advantages in case of the small-scale manufacturing, making it possible to achieve a high rate of production and design flexibility, along with the increased efficiency per unit of manufactured product. In addition, desktop 3D printers allow creating conceptual models and prototypes without having to leave the office, which also contributes greatly to the efficiency of work (Barnatt, 2013).

It should be noted that the global supply of 3D-printers is projected to be doubled by the end of 2016. According to the estimates, the trend will reach its peak in as soon as only three years, as the market economy of the 3D printers continues to grow rapidly, namely due to their wide-scale industrial use. The new industrial, medical, and consumer applications of 3D printing continue confirming that this technological trend is a real, viable, and efficient way to reduce the costs through the rapid elaboration of design, prototyping of complex and elegant models, and their quick manufacturing (Barnatt, 2013).

The Effect on Society

Despite having emerged only recently, the described technological trends had a significant impact on the technology in general, and it is clear that their influence will only grow in the nearest future. In particular, the wide availability of the additive manufacturing, especially domestic one, presents the new requirements to the manufacturing companies, especially those dealing with small-scale production. For example, they already have to demonstrate flexibility and ensure the continuous improvement of the available technologies to maintain competitiveness. In particular, 3D printing has the most significant effect on the logistics, as the traditional chain of delivery will be broken due to the development of this technological trend. With the advent of small, inexpensive 3D printers, the remote locations may use digital libraries of projects, accessible from the local computers and print the required model. As a result, there is also a need to develop the means for storing such amounts of data, namely the cloud storages. Thus, 3D printing has certain effects on the development of the information technologies. Moreover, the change in the supply chain will result in the decreased use of the means of transportation and, therefore, the reduced impact on the environment. The number of trucks required for carrying goods to the consumers will be reduced, making it possible for the automotive companies to shift to the manufacturing of more economical and, possibly, environmentally friendly vehicles. Finally, it became obvious that 3D printing, and, as a result, the domestic production will compete with a wide array of manufacturers, fighting over its place in the global market. Still, at the same time, the additive technologies can be considered a supplement for the traditional subtractive methods, rather than a complete replacement of the latter (Barnatt, 2013).

Nevertheless, the 3D printing makes it possible to equalize the costs of mass production and small-scale manufacturing. In turn, such a trend poses a threat to the economies of scale. The impact of 3D-printing may be similar to that made by certain inventions. For example, in the 1450s, no one could predict the consequences of the invention of printing press. In the 1750s, steam engines were not taken seriously, and the transistors of the 1950s were not viewed as competitors to the traditional lamps. However, the technology of 3D printing continues its development, and is likely to have an impact on every science and manufacturing industry that relies on it (Barnatt, 2013).

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The described technological trend of the real-time speech translation that is available to the wider public has a significant effect on the development of the artificial intelligence, namely machine learning. In particular, the systems operating on the basis of the principle used by Skype Translator are likely to demonstrate a synergistic effect in their work, especially when dealing with multiple languages instead of a single language pair (Kitano, 2012). For example, the machine is being taught English at first, with the consequent introduction of the Mandarin – a literary dialect of the Chinese language. As a result, the translator becomes better not only in Chinese language but also in English. After the addition of yet another language, namely Spanish, the beneficial changes are felt in the English and Chinese languages too. The nature of this mechanism of cognitive learning is yet to be defined but it is quite comparable with the learning ability of a human brain. As a result, the work on the creation of a purely market-based system of the machine assisted translation has produced something that shows the properties that are similar to those of a growing and developing human brain. Of course, it is unlikely that the new systems of translation will be capable of passing the Turing Test (i.e. the test defining the humanity of a machine). At the same time, while talking to someone through an interpreter, people actually communicate with an interpreter, rather than the interlocutor. As a result, the conclusions regarding the learning ability of the new artificial intelligence can be very interesting and quite ambiguous. It should be noted that all these changes and speculations were triggered by a single unexpected effect, when people are faced with a situation, in which the means of communications may be smarter and better educated than those who use it.

Moreover, it should be noted that despite its popularity, English is not the most widely spoken language in the world. According to some estimates, it occupies the third place after the Chinese (in different versions) and Hindi. At the same time, the continued globalization of the society urgently requires people to be able to communicate, disregarding all the language barriers. According to the estimates of Microsoft, Skype, the platform that houses the mentioned translator, has more than 300 million active users. Moreover, it accounts for about a third of all the international calls (Porterfield, 2014). The addition of a built-in speech translator will expand the field of use of the online communication – for example, the international conferences and meetings can be carried out in the online mode, without requiring the physical presence of the participants. In this regard, such a trend will primarily affect the transportation industry, forcing its players to change their manufacturing strategies due to the increased competition for the customers. As a result, it is possible to expect the introduction of cost-efficient means of people’s transportation.

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