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February, 2008

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  • Microsoft Translator Team Blog

    To Bot or not to Bot (IM Translation)

    • 27 Comments

    Did you know that MSN messenger recently became* is the number one instant messenger in the world? Last summer, thanks to the efforts of Helvecio on our team, the MTBot prototype project quietly launched – to provide a glimpse to the community of 28.6 million unique messenger users what might be possible when you combine machine translation technology with instant messaging.

    The MTBot prototype project was released in May 2007 with the main goal to try to understand how useful  machine translation would be in IM conversations. The bot acts as a human translator, participating in conferences and translating messages as they are sent by all parties.

    A typical usage scenario would be something like this: let's assume you have a friend in Japan that does not speak English... Well, you would add MTBot-en_us@hotmail.com to your Live messenger buddy list, wait until the bot accepts your request (by switching status to Online) and then you would start your conversation by sending the "Hello" message... The Bot is going to wake up, and display a list of languages - enter "ja" for Japanese. Once it gets a valid connection the Bot will tell you to invite your friend to join the conversation. That's it... From this point on, everything you type will be translated from English to Japanese, and everything your friend types will be translated from Japanese to English.

    Another typical use is as portable translator: using Messenger from any Smartphone a user can translate simple sentences when traveling to other countries.

    MTBot conversation screenshot

    MT bot prototype screenshot

    As with any prototype effort, do keep in mind that this is experimental and there is a possibility the bot might be offline from time to time. The usual caveats about the quality of machine translation also apply.

    We always appreciate your feedback and suggestions – so feel free to do so on this thread.

    Cheers!

    Vikram

     * Update: The link pointing to the data on Messenger becoming the most used IM client is from around when (2003-04) it first claimed that crown. Messenger has continued that trend since then. (Thanks to our keen eyed readers for catching that one!)

    Vikram works on Incubation Strategy for Microsoft Research Machine Translation team
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