Online translations at the touch of a button

For years, online translations were smiled at as gibberish - the results were too unwieldy, sometimes even absurd. Artificial Intelligence methods brought the breakthrough here. Also for DeepL. The small Cologne-based company is now one of the showcase AI companies in the German-speaking world. When it comes to online translations, it now takes on market giants such as Google and Microsoft.

The photo shows the right section of a keyboard. On a blue key on the right is the English word: translate.

The beginnings of DeepL date back to 2009, when former Google developer Gereon Frahling teamed up with a school friend to break new ground in online translation. They founded the startup Linguee, an online dictionary for 25 different languages. For eight years the founders presented a fundamental technical advancement - a new translation tool based on deep learning methods.

From then on, the aim was not to translate individual words, but entire sentences at once. The aim was to make the translated texts more fluid and meaningful in the future. Years earlier, Frahling had already had the idea of a complex full-text translator, but the technical possibilities were not yet available at the time. With the use of the new technology and following this, the founders also renamed their company - to DeepL.

Better than Google, Microsoft and Facebook

For the launch of the new translation software, the Cologne-based start-up called for a challenge: It had 100 sentences translated by Google Translate, Bing Microsoft Translator, the Facebook Translator and its own tool, and the results were then assessed by professional translators. They did not know which translation came from which system. The result: The translations from DeepL were rated by far better than the competition. Why? Because they sounded more natural.

Unlike Google and Microsoft, DeepL uses so-called Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs), which are trained using the company's own Linguee database. The translation is generated by a supercomputer that reaches 5.1 petaflops (= arithmetic operations per second). Thus DeepL manages to translate one million words in less than one second. The neural networks were trained with over one billion translated sentences provided by the translation search engine Linguee. Many text samples also came from documents of multilateral institutions such as the European Union.

Swiss government relies on DeepL

Screenshot of DeepL (© DeepL)

A basic version of the online translation tool is available free of charge on the Internet. The company offers subscription models for professional use. They are already in use: For example, the Swiss government has many of its official texts translated into English, French and Italian using the software. A single government document can consist of more than 500 A4 pages. What a person needs days, if not weeks, the translation tool from DeepL can do in seconds.

The company has shown that it does not always take billions of dollars of investment to compete with the big players in an industry. Sometimes the intelligent application of algorithms is enough. In this case, they help to fulfill an old human dream: To end the great confusion of languages on Earth - at least in written language.

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Natural Language Processing
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