Zoom announces plans to acquire machine translation start-up Kites
Popular video calling platform Zoom has announced plans to acquire Karlsruhe Information Technology Solutions GmbH, also known as Kites. The German start-up specializes in real-time audio translation powered by Machine Learning (ML). Although the video calling giant didn't share the financial specifics of the deal, it did confirm that the start-up's translation technology will be a part of its platform. Here are more details.
Kites is a small start-up established in 2015 by Dr. Alex Waibel and Dr. Sebastian Stüker. It employs 12 researchers associated with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology who specialize in machine translation, a fusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ML. Kites aims to make seamless cross-language interaction a reality of everyday life. The acquisition's goal is to provide "multi-language translation capabilities" for Zoom users.
Currently, Zoom allows meetings to host multiple human interpreters and integrate Zoom calls with third-party closed captioning services. However, the company is rather late to introduce machine translation on its platform. For instance, longstanding rival Microsoft Skype began offering Skype Translator in 2015 and Cisco has also added a real-time translation feature to the Cisco Webex video conferencing platform.
Zoom's President of Product and Engineering, Velchamy Sankarlingam, said the company is continuously looking for "new ways to deliver happiness" to its users and improve meeting productivity. Sankarlingam added that machine translation solutions will be key in enhancing the Zoom platform for customers around the world. Announcing the acquisition, Zoom has also expressed interest in establishing a research and development (R&D) facility in Germany.
Interestingly, machine translation technology is still an active area of research to optimize its multi-step process reliant on neural networks. Presently, most implementations suffer from low accuracy, inconsistency, lack of contextual understanding, and errors that can prove to be costly. However, the biggest advantage is that machine translation can process large volumes of data much faster and more efficiently than a human translator.
Speaking of when you could use machine translation on a Zoom call, a company announcement in February said a closed-captioning service called Live Transcription should be available for free this fall to users who request access. That said, the financial aspects of Zoom's acquisition of Kites and a tentative timeline for the start-up's technology to be integrated into Zoom remain undisclosed.