Daily Israel Report

Technology to Reverse 'Curse of Babel?'

An Israeli company has developed technology that allows people speaking different languages to talk to - and understand - each other.
By TechIsrael Staff
First Publish: 12/4/2011, 10:49 PM

Yael Mittleman
Yael Mittleman
Paul Orliev

The sorry aftermath of man's hubris in building the Tower of Babel resulted in the polyglot of languages we have today, so the Bible tells us; which would make the people behind Israeli startup Lexifone Biblical commentators, in a form of speaking. Actually, we don't know their views on matters spiritual, but Lexifone's staff is doing its part to enable understanding between nations.

Lexifone is utilizing voice to text and natural language technologies to produce an automatic translation service that will enable users to call a number, say a sentence or ask a question in their own language, and have it automatically translated into another language. It's a service that could be implemented at an airport, hotel, shopping center, or any other facility where people are likely to need translation help.

Currently, the technology can translate in real time between six popular languages – English, French, German, Spanish, etc. (other languages are slated for development as well). Once the system is implemented, users can get automatic translations via telephone (landline or cellphone) – speaking in their own language, with their words translated into the language of the person on the other side of the line, and vice-versa.

So, for example, a hotel in Spain could set up a phone number for potential customers in France. The French customers can call the number, and book their hotel room directly – without having to go through a travel agent that speaks their language and deals with the hotel on their behalf. And the staff at the hotel don't need French training; they hear requests on the phone in Spanish, and when they answer in their own language, the customer hears the answer in French! It's a technology that could benefit not only the tourism industry – but any situation where language is the stumbling block preventing work from getting done.

The technology, based on advanced algorithms and clever use of TTS and other voice to text technologies, is impressive – so much so that the company this week announced that it has received a $2 million investment from Canadian web branding company Internetainment, which will use Lexifone's technology on its Ortsbo email translation and chat site and app. In exchange for its investment, Internetainment gets 25% of Lexifone's shares – with an option to buy the rest. And to add to Lexifone's coolness factor, among the celebrities promoting Ortsbo (and soon Lexifone's component in it) are Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns, and Gene Simmons of rock group Kiss.

Lexifone was established in 2010 and is directed by Dr. Ike Sagie, formerly a top manager in IBM Labs Israel and one of the founders of Israeli startup Attunity, now traded on the Nasdaq. Lexifone “grew up” in the Haifa HiCenter Business Accelerator, and naturally the accelerator's administrators and investors are very happy with the latest developments. Yael Mittelman, Director of HiCenter, said that Lexifone's ability to raise substantial funds during difficult financial times was a testimony to the quality of the company's technology. “The current investment lays the groundwork for a possible acquisition of the company,” she said, adding that “Lexifone is an excellent example of a company that has managed itself intelligently from a financial and infrastructure point of view, and has been able to achieve a great deal with limited resources.”