Chomsky isn’t a fan of statistical machine learning. However, this video (via Steve Hsu) suggests that using Really Big Corpora is the best way to get machines to figure out how language works, both structurally and–as the video shows–phonetically and acoustically.
Around six minutes in, the demonstration begins. The speaker’s words are translated almost instantaneously into Chinese, and the auditory output sounds somewhat similar to the speaker’s actual voice. There are obviously Chinese speakers in the audience, and their response suggests that the demo was successful.
This video is a good example of the ways that computer scientists (and I include researchers in natural language processing in that category) are operating squarely in the realm of the humanities–what’s more humanistic than language translation? There have been tomes and manifestos written unto its spiritual, social, epistemological, and theoretical nature. And now computers are getting the hang of it. We humanists ignore their successes at our peril.