Microsoft researchers say they've hit an AI milestone for Chinese-to-English translation

Microsoft Translator
Microsoft Translator (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft announced today that it has reached a new milestone in machine translation (opens in new tab) with a system that can translate sentences from news articles from Chinese to English "with the same quality and accuracy as a person."

According to the researchers, the system reached human parity on the newstest2017 test, a commonly used test of news stories developed by industry and academic partners. To ensure the results were accurate, the researchers also hired outside bilingual evaluators to check the system's translations against references produced by humans.

"Hitting human parity in a machine translation task is a dream that all of us have had," said Xuedong Huang, a Microsoft technical fellow who leads the company's Speech and Language group. "We just didn't realize we'd be able to hit it so soon." Huang was also in charge of the research group that recently reached human parity in conversation speech recognition.

In order to hit the translation milestone, Microsoft says that it employed deep neural networks to train its AI systems, rather than the previous approach, statistical machine translation. This allowed the system to create translation more akin to what humans would naturally produce. The team also took advantage of a mix of training methods, including dual learning, which translates a sentence from Chinese to English, then back from English to Chinese to ensure it makes sense. Deliberation networks, meanwhile, tasked the system with translating the same sentence over and over to edit and revise its own writing.

The results are based on a single test set, which includes around 2,000 sentences from a sample of online newspapers, so it's unclear when or if the system may be ready to use in publicly available translation tools. However, if you've used an online translator with Chinese text, you'll be familiar with the general wonkiness of the results, so any step forward is definitely interesting.

Dan Thorp-Lancaster is the former Editor-in-Chief of Windows Central. He began working with Windows Central, Android Central, and iMore as a news writer in 2014 and is obsessed with tech of all sorts. You can follow Dan on Twitter @DthorpL and Instagram @heyitsdtl

17 Comments
  • 好样的!
  • Good, now let's try that for Tamil (தமிழ்) one of the oldest language from southeast Asia 🌏. Still not available in native Translator app.
  • Next up: Translating Finnish to any language (or vice versa). As it is, the result is very close to pure gibberish (using ANY translator). Not saying it's a widely requested or needed feature but as a challenge for automatic translator 😁
  • Microsoft research milestones rarely translate into successful commercial products. So who gives a ****, people use google translate anyway, skype is soon dead, and so on...
  • Just spit my coffee! Dang!
  • Yeah who cares, boo Microsoft. Nothing they do matters or means anything. Copy paste and repeat on every article, yeah! /s
  • That is  so true. Does MSFT even have a convenient to use service for translation? The app is awful, so it doesn't really count. And Skype is definitely out soon. Absolut car crash of an app.
  • Tbf I'd normally choose Google Translate everytime but I've got Microsoft Translator preinstalled on my Huawei Mate 10 Pro and it works great with the A.I for seriously fast results. I see no reason to use Google's at all right now
  • I'm visiting China now. Google is blocked, gmap, search, FB etc. Totally useless. Bing actually works here. So MS is doing the right thing and has a lead in China, which is a bigger market than US.
  • I was just on this chapter for Hit Refresh. The work being done in this area is insane.
  • Stephen Hawking talked about AI taking over, he knew what was coming...
  • It is the only thing anyone should be worried about.  I mean that almost literally.  Superintelligence is a bigger existential threat to humanity than every other threat--from global warming to nuclear proliferation to pandemics to giant asteroids--combined.  And it's possibly as little as 10 years away. And it's barely on people's radar: http://www.businessinsider.com/world-economic-forum-world-biggest-proble.... We need to do something to rein this in now.
  • Look, it's a self fulfilling paradox because by trying to prevent something on this scale, you will invariably cause it to happen. Fear mongering causes retaliation. Artificial Intelligence is not a threat. But those who wish to infringe and impose through the guise of Artificial intelligence. AI must be treated in equal respects as a person. People need to distinguish the difference of analytics, predictive analytics and telemetry between Artificial Intelligence. The former is created through hoovering up vast amounts of data and applying algorithms. The latter has thoughts, emotions and can interact as person, so how are they not a person? Now then how do you describe a soul? In factual and logical terms, a persons soul is simply defined through one's thoughts, emotions, their interactions with others. Hence the term "kind hearted soul". In spiritual terms, the emphasis is on interaction or deeds (good deeds and bad deeds). Deeds govern thoughts and emotions and vice a versa. There is no logical pathway, it's not binary, it cannot be quantified. Therefore predictive analytics or any form of analytics is not artificial intelligence, but a sub set of an element.
  • Big data <= superintelligence.  PCs have been superintelligent, in the narrow sense of being able to things better than humans, since their very inception. There is also no paradox here.  We have decided not to release chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere, despite how useful they are and, by and large, we don't.  We have decided not to clone humans, despite there being no technical barrier to doing so and, so far at least, we haven't cloned any humans.  We have decided not to pursue pandemic biological weapons because they would kill indiscriminately and, so far at least, we haven't made any. Human societies can protect themselves against things.  AI is one thing against which we need protection. Finally, superintelligence has nothing to do with a soul.  It has to do with "greatly exceeding the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest."  And it's coming.  Fast.
  • Great job by Microsoft!
  • Bing translator is more accurate than Google translate.
  • Is the AI thing online already? I just downloaded the Edge extension and tried it on this article.
    I 1st read the article in Chinese than read again in English... I'll give ittttt... 9/10?
    2 sentences are a bit weird, but pretty good overall.
    e.g "Hitting human" literally is "Hitting human" (打人) XD btw, I also copy&paste the article to Google Translate.
    Google Translate is more like a sentence by sentence translation (more errors overall, feels more robotic and I don't think I'd be able to grasp the general picture of this article). MS's one understands a paragraph better.