Babelverse Presentation at NCATA

Hello! Thank you for inviting us to talk with
you today! Since we’re in faraway London, we’ve recorded a special presentation. We’ll
be be using twitter to follow along remotely so please feel free to ask us any questions
during our presentation, we’re out there and will respond! We both come from a transitional generation
who grew up during the information revolution of the 90’s. We’ve lived in a world of cassettes,
VHS, CD’s and MP3’s. And, we’ve been through many waves of evolution and disruption throughout
our lives. …. This has a unique influence on us. … A device with a screen that was
creative and mobile? Of course! That existed decades ago! From the Etch-a-Sketch to the
iPad, technology has advanced so much in such a considerably short period. So! Back in 2010, an Englishman and a Frenchman
were living and working in Greece, we often found ourselves struggling to communicate,
we tried Google Translate but it didn’t work so we’d resort to calling up our local friends
for help. Which was useful for informal conversations, but we often needed a more reliable solution
having realised the many situations where an interpreter would help! For example: Getting
around town. Dealing with public services. Knowing what to order. Getting business done.
Participating in local events & conferences. As problem solvers, we knew there could be
a more accessible and reliable way to overcome the language barrier. As fans of Douglas Adams
and inspired by the concept of his Babelfish, we set out to build Babelverse. So, what is Babelverse? Babelverse is a combination
of: People. Technology and a Business Model. It’s a global people-powered platform for
remote interpretation which provides income for it’s members. Now, we’ll talk in depth
about each of the 3 components. The most important component of Babelverse
is people. More and more, people prefer to go peer-to-peer.
To help or get help directly from another individual. Our community is made up of these crucial
pillars. Languages. Belts. Expertise and The Human Element. The first pillar is Languages. Since the conception
of Babelverse we wanted it to be inclusive, this is fundamental to our mission and creates
a community with an endless diversity of language combinations! As of today, our community is
made up of over one thousand language pairs, 180 unique languages and 8,000 members. We go beyond just the language itself, we
take in to account your dialect and accent and we aim to connect you with another member
who you are most likely to understand. For example, an American English speaker will
be connected with another American or maybe a Canadian interpreter, but rarely with an
Australian. The second Pillar of our community is belts.
Babelverse makes a clear distinction between different levels of interpreting skill. We draw a clear line between these two groups. However, it’s not black and white. We’ve designed our community to be diverse
in its capabilities. By utilising the universally understood belt ranking system from martial
arts enables us to provide a service level for different situations as well as manage
quality control and encourage skill development. Currently, we have Yellow Belts: Free to use
for informal settings with an option to give a thank you donation, also a way to scout
new talent. Purple Belts: A mid-tier rate for the client. Yellow Belt members can level
up to Purple once they’ve proven themselves on Babelverse. And last but not least, Black
Belt, with premium rates and reserved only for professional interpreters. And if you’re
wondering… monolinguals are White Belts! Our belt system is designed to be expandable.
We recently introduced a new belt! Green Belt! This is for Interpreters in Training.
We’ve had many requests from people that are currently studying interpreting, and are looking
for ways to practice and improve their skills. With this new belt we will recognise them
and be able to provide them with opportunities to do so. The third pillar of our community is Expertise.
Machine algorithms can learn terminology but only people can passionately study and experience
a subject enough to really understand its deeper meaning. The fourth pillar of our community is something
that we believe is very important and which is too often ignored. This is the human element.
Communication is not only about transferring information, but about connecting people. For Babelverse to be reliable, trust and accountability
are vital. Our guiding principle is that people are inherently good when provided with the
right environment and incentives, though of course we have systems in place to catch the
bad apples. The human ability to deduce context, and take
into account people’s body language, facial expressions, tone and emotions is a major
advantage. On top of that, peoples’ backgrounds have
an important effect on how well they relate to each other, so we find it important to
cultivate a diverse community. The same goes for personality. Another component of Babelverse is obviously
technology, mainly the global connectivity and mobile devices which make it possible. Do you know how your smartphone compares to
the computers that landed man on the moon? It’s several hundreds times MORE powerful. The power of technology increases exponentially,
be it the speed of processors or the amount of internet bandwidth available to us. Which
means that every year, things that seemed impossible become possible. The phrase “there’s an app for that” rings
more true every day. Mobile devices are becoming the centre of our world, and apps are quickly
replacing expensive specialised devices. An important virtue of this widespread access
is that it levels the playing field. We foresee a future where everyone has equal access to
knowledge, education, and opportunity. Where the market rewards people based on their skills
and contributions, instead of their background, location or passport. As a young and fast moving company, we’re
constantly developing, testing, iterating and improving Babelverse applications. This
cycle of failure and success is what drives rapid innovation forward. As Facebook Founder
Zuckerberg puts it, “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not
moving fast enough.” The final component of Babelverse is our business
model. We’re part of a new wave of startups that some people are calling the collaborative
economy which creates a new source of income for people, by enabling them to offer products
or services directly to other people who can access them on-demand, only when needed. At Babelverse, we care about finding a balance
between an affordable & quality service and a fair source of income for interpreters.
Because we’re operating on a global scale, and to avoid the pitfalls of outsourcing,
we’ve developed a unique formula that calculates specific rates for every language pair and
belt level. So, how does Babelverse work? It starts with a request. A user selects the
language they need and a belt level according to their situation – Yellow, Purple or Black
Belt. For example, they may request a Yellow Belt for help ordering in the restaurant but
require a Black Belt for interpreting a business meeting. Next, Babelverse automatically notifies the
best matched and available interpreters. The first to accept the request does the job. Next, the user is connected with the interpreter
via voice or video, over the web or on their mobile device, or if there is no internet
connection, falling back to telephone. And finally, payment is credited to the interpreter’s
balance, and both the user and interpreter rate each other. Having laid all of those foundations, how
can we apply them. We’re big fans of an iterative approach and achieving our goal requires many
attempts. In the spirit of this we’ve put out quite a few real-world experiments. Providing
remote interpretation to small TEDx events, large conferences and US Senate sessions.
We’ll now share some of those with you. From the outset we began experimenting. Our
very first experiment was an interpreter hotline service set-up post-Japanese Tsunami in March
2011. Shocked by the events in Japan and being the problem solvers we are, we wondered how
we could assist, we got together and overnight we quickly built a simple website where people
could easily volunteer their Japanese & English language skills. Rescue teams, reporters and individuals on
the ground could call a local number and quickly be connected to an available volunteer. Using
Twitter and the hashtag #helpjapan to get the word out, our service was picked up and
spread by The Red Cross and other organisations. We quickly had around 150 bilingual people
volunteer their time. One of our largest and most complex experiments
came in 2012 when we provided remote simultaneous interpretation into 12 languages over 4 days
for their TechCrunch Disrupt conference. This was a great learning curve for us and organising
60 interpreters — all Black Belts of course — was a totally new experience! The great innovation here was that thousands
of people around the world who would’ve otherwise missed out, could enjoy the conference live
in their own language and also join in the social media discussions. And since it was
the first time Zuckerberg spoke in public after Facebook’s IPO this was a very popular
global event! We also built a custom website where viewers
could easily select their language, and see photos and profiles of their interpreter,
putting a face to the voice. We also localised the site into all 12 languages
to provide a seamless experience for the audience. One of our most world touching experiments
came in January 2012. The day BEFORE the State of the Union address, we realised that it
would be great if it were interpreted live in as many languages as possible, so we put
out a call for volunteers, the press picked up on this and the volunteers came flooding
in. When President Obama took to the stage, Babelverse was there and provided real-time
simultaneous interpretation so that the whole world could follow along live! Beyond some of our experiments, we’ve since
been asked to provide online interpretation of Senate hearings into Spanish to help more
Americans understand and be involved in policy. Here’s a short clip of Babelverse in action. That
video showed the experience for a remote audience
member. Now here’s a peek at the interpreter’s “virtual booth” which runs in a modern web
browser with no special software to install. While it’s still a work-in-progress, it features
side-by-side live video of the speaker and slides. And the ability to collaborate and
easily switch with your remote booth-mate. Beyond these different applications of Babelverse,
we’re now focusing on our mobile app. Our first version will be all about helping travellers
better communicate with locals, for business or pleasure. We’re very excited to start testing
this with a wider audience soon, so please create a profile to get involved with this.
We also have many more applications to come and we’re open to hearing ideas and possible
collaborations you may have in mind! Babelverse is really creating a new global
market for interpretation, by offering turn-key services for niche markets and clients who
may have occasional needs, but would usually find it too complicated or expensive to book
on-site interpreters, or most likely wouldn’t even be aware of the possibility. We’ve been quite successful at promoting Babelverse
— and the benefits of interpretation more generally — in the mainstream press and blogosphere
globally. Which leads to the likes of CNBC saying we’re at the forefront of the industry,
and the embodiment of it’s “startup moment”. And the industry is taking notice. Here’s
the research firm Common Sense Advisory saying that our approach and “clear marketing talent”
set us apart. And we want to leverage this to greatly multiply the market reach of interpretation. But also to have a positive social impact,
so building on our initial experiment in Japan. All members on Babelverse are invited to volunteer
when needed for crisis situations, but also, to help your preferred non-profit organisations
through Babelverse. So please create a profile today! We’ll leave you this quote: “Interpreters
will never be replaced by technology. They will be replaced by interpreters who use technology.” Thank you and remember to tweet us with your
questions, or send us an email we’ll be happy answer them.

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3 thoughts on “Babelverse Presentation at NCATA

  1. We gave a presentation to the National Capital Area Translators Association (NCATA). After it was shown to the attendees there was a panel discussion on remote interpretation. Thank you to @Ncata Ata for inviting us to talk with your members. May there be many more collaborations and discussions. You can see the profiles of the other panelists here please feel free to share.

  2. Hello!
    I'm not sure if I'm writing to the correct Babelverse, but I'm trying to locate a related project, Interpreters Without Borders. Any idea how to find them? I am a Certified Spanish Court Interpreter in Massachusetts and am very interested in participating. Please write to me at [email protected]
    Many thanks!
    Genevieve K. Howe

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