Today, we’ll introduce a startup company that shone at The Korea Electronics Show 2017. The firm in question is Flitto, a crowd-sourced translation platform. Here’s Kim Ju-yong, head of the company’s sales team.
Flitto was established in 2012, when many people were already using Google’s translation service. But we still launched a new translation app because people found machine translation inconvenient and inaccurate. We believed that language translation should be done by humans. It was the company’s philosophy.
Lee Jung-soo, CEO of Flitto, spent his childhood in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. and the U.K. because his father worked in those countries. While growing up in different countries, Lee dreamed of removing language barriers. When he studied business administration at Korea University, he created a translation service, which turned out to be the beginning of Flitto. Later, he entered South Korea’s largest telecom service provider, SK Telecom. In 2012, he launched a new translation service.
The key of Flitto is to provide translation data offered by humans as well as machines. Users can request a translation and instantly get answers from translators all over the world. The users can then pick the one they like. The translation requests might be professional, but experts in particular industries can answer. If users want to get an answer quickly, they can just select the one that has arrived first. Users can find the most appropriate answer anytime, anywhere, and this is Flitto’s competitive advantage.
Flitto uses a collective intelligence-based platform. For example, if a user types in a word or a phrase that needs translating on the Flitto webpage or app, translators give answers in real time. The process can take between just two seconds and ten minutes. The user finds different translations from all over the world and chooses the best one before purchasing a small amount of points to pay for the translation. From the stage of setting up the company, Flitto drew global attention with its new concept of “collective intelligence translation service,” where language specialists in different countries can translate in a more natural and accurate way. In 2012, it became the first Asian firm to participate in Techstars London’s incubator program. Later, the company received the grand prize at every start-up competition it joined in South Korea, Israel and Switzerland. Flitto secured 2.7 million users only five months after launching the service. And now, 7.5 million people in 173 countries use its translation service. With the number of users on the rise, the service is evolving fast.
With the purpose of easing any inconvenience in translation, we deal with tens of thousands of translations per day. The accumulated translation data now works as a dictionary. If a user types in just two words, “Jongro, restroom,” sentences related to the words like “Where is the Jongro restroom?” appear one by one. Our service has reached the stage of machine translation and now, we provide artificial intelligence or AI-based translation.
At present, Flitto supports 18 different languages and performs more than 70-thousand translations each day. It has amassed 80 million pairs of sentences over five years through collective intelligence, and the extensive data became the basis for the introduction of AI translation. In addition to translation services based on collective intelligence and AI, Flitto is also working on a one-on-one service tailored to individual users hoping to find translators in particular fields. In this way, the company is expanding the scope of translation. Last year, it started to provide a real-time image translation service as well.
When visitors look around the Louvre Museum in Paris, they will find every description is written in French. If they have Flitto’s real-time image translation app, they can take pictures of the descriptions with their mobile phones. The app offers real-time translation in 18 languages, so tourists from various parts of the world can appreciate the works of art more conveniently. We’re working with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, to use our real-time image translation app there. Here in South Korea, we’ll provide the service to places frequented by foreign tourists, such as Cheonggye Plaza and Gwangjang market. When foreigners see tteokbokki, for instance, they can take a photo and see that it is Korean rice cakes in spicy chili paste by using this service.
This image translation service is very useful when translating languages that are difficult to type for non-speakers, such as Chinese or Arabic, and when seeing signs or restaurant menus. The signs and menus have already been translated before on Flitto, and users can see their real-time translations if they take pictures of them with their phones. It is now emerging as a global language data company.
Some people may simply regard Flitto as the Korean version of Google’s translation service or a translation app of a small company. But the majority of our profits come from selling our data to other global machine translation service providers. In machine learning, computers are supposed to learn a tremendous amount of data. The more data, the more accurate the machines will be. But it isn’t easy to obtain this data. Flitto has an edge in this area. We process and sell the translation data and continue to accumulate it. Flitto is the only company to carry out all the procedures at one time. We believe we can quickly dominate the market.
In the big data market, which is dubbed a gold mine of the 21st century, Flitto is providing translation data to global companies such as Microsoft in the U.S., China’s biggest search portal Baidu and Japan’s NTT Docomo. The company’s name “Flitto” is derived from “flitter,” meaning “fly quickly.” As the name indicates, Flitto is flying high in the global translation market.