Zoom has unveiled plans to introduce live, multi-language transcription and translation for calls. The news was announced at the virtual meeting platform’s annual Zoomtopia conference on September 13, 2021.
Other updates to the platform unveiled at the conference: Zoom Whiteboard, which allows users to collaborate via a digital canvas; a reservation system for users to reserve desks and other in-person materials as they transition back to the office; and a widget that helps users organize their work in Zoom, such as managing calendars, contacting meeting hosts, etc.
Unlike many of the other new features, Zoom’s transcription and translation services will come with a fee (amount yet to be confirmed). And although Zoom’s scale of offerings may sound ambitious — transcription in 30 languages and translation in 12 by the end of 2022 — the company has not specifically identified which languages will be covered.
Zoom’s foray into live translation and transcription seems to be directly connected to its June 2021 acquisition of German simultaneous speech provider Kites, as The Verge pointed out. The move, only its second-ever acquisition, demonstrated Zoom’s strong interest in speech-to-text translation (STT), a system where speech is first transcribed and the resulting text then translated into the target language/s.
The news also marks Zoom’s departure from the path of competitors racing to perfect speech-to-speech translation (S2ST as opposed to STT). These competitors include Facebook, with its recently unveiled textless NLP model, and Google, with its two Translatotron iterations.
Of course, both Microsoft Teams and Google Meet have offered closed captioning since at least mid-2020. Zoom quickly followed suit — with speech-to-text provider Rev enabling transcription and closed captioning in English, and subtitles in 15 languages via a “Zapp” from the Zoom app marketplace. Since March 2021, those Zapps have also included interpreting by Boostlingo.
It remains to be seen how Zoom’s transcription and translation add-ons will impact demand for services by third-party providers working with the ubiquitous meeting app.