Babel Fish? Roblox enables real-time AI chat translation in 16 languages

In the sci-fi universe of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams conceptualized the Babel fish: a small, yellow, leech-like creature that can translate any language instantly. While online game platform Roblox might not have introduced a squirming alien fish into its virtual world, it has achieved something almost as remarkable: its new multilingual translation model.

Roblox announced its new translation model on Monday, February 5. Thanks to the platform’s new AI chat translations, players from different linguistic backgrounds can communicate with each other in their native language seamlessly. One player might crack jokes in Korean while another responds in German — with automatic translation into a user’s preferred language, players may not even realize the person they’re chatting with isn’t using the same language. Sounds a lot like the Babel fish, doesn’t it?

According to Roblox’s Chief Technology Officer, Daniel Sturman, the platform’s custom multilingual model allows for direct translation between any combination of the 16 languages currently supported. Whether it’s Korean to English or Turkish to German, the chat window automatically translates messages in real time. Roblox claims that translations are produced with latency of around 100 milliseconds, which is practically imperceptible to users.

Roblox LIVE demo
Roblox LIVE demo

The team behind the model created a single, transformer-based large language model (LLM), which allowed for efficient training and maintenance by leveraging linguistic similarities between languages. By training all languages together, the model benefits from shared knowledge, resulting in improved translation quality across the board. Moreover, the system’s ability to detect and translate mixed-language input further enhances its versatility, ensuring a reasonably understandable output even in complex linguistic scenarios.

The Roblox team also used an interesting approach to account for slang, a tricky-to-translate form of language that’s particularly common on the platform, whose players skew toward a younger demographic. Human evaluators translated a list of trending terms for each language, a process that the team plans to repeat regularly to ensure that its slang terms are accurate and up-to-date.

To ensure the accuracy and relevance of translations, Roblox has employed a comprehensive quality evaluation metric, measuring aspects such as accuracy, fluency, and error severity. This rigorous approach, combined with continuous feedback from users, allows the platform to fine-tune its translation model and deliver high-quality linguistic support to its diverse user base.

Looking ahead, Roblox has ambitious plans to enhance its translation capabilities further. Future updates will include integration with voice chat, enabling seamless communication across languages with tone and emotion preserved. Additionally, the platform aims to expand its language support and explore translation of other modalities, such as text on images and 3D models.

“In the not-too-distant future, Roblox will be a place where people from all around the world can seamlessly and effortlessly communicate not just via text chat, but in every possible modality,” Sturman writes.

So while the Babel fish remains a creature of science fiction, Roblox’s translation technology is bringing us one step closer to a world in which language is not a barrier but a bridge to boundless creativity and collaboration.

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