The 23rd Winter Olympic Games will kick off in the South Korean alpine town of PyeongChang on February 9. The upcoming Olympics will be a gala show of South Korea’s information and communications technologies related to the fourth industrial revolution, including the fifth-generation mobile networks, which have been set up for the first time in the world, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Hancom, one of Korea’s representative software developers, is seeking to create an Olympics without the language barrier through its GenieTalk app, which is the official translation and interpretation software for the PyeongChang Olympics. Let’s hear from Kim Mu-jung, chief researcher at Hancom Interfree, a subsidiary of Hancom.

About 50-thousand people, including athletes, officials and VIP guests, will visit South Korea for the PyeongChang Olympics. Between 150-thousand and 200-thousand foreign tourists are expected to come to the nation during the Olympic period. During their stay in Korea, they may face difficulties when they want to buy something to eat or get some medicines for stomach ache, due to the language barrier. Guides in the athletes’ village, stadiums and convenient facilities can use GenieTalk to help athletes and tourists from overseas communicate without any problems. In general, interpreters help out foreigners who want to talk with Koreans. But this automatic interpretation software performs that role.

GenieTalk will work as an interpreter in every corner of PyeongChang. It supports eight languages, including English, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish, paired with Korean. It is able to interpret not only speech but images and even typed text as well. 24-thousand volunteers for the Olympics have already learned how to use it, and possible conversations at police stations have been added to the app so foreign visitors to police stations can use it easily. From Incheon International Airport to stadiums in PyeongChang, GenieTalk is set to help tourists everywhere during their stay in Korea.

For foreigners, I think GenieTalk is the first gateway to Korea. I have visited Gangneung many times to test the app. I saw local taxi drivers operating the app while driving. They said they had no problem in communicating with foreigners who travel to Gangneung or PyeongChang because they could easily communicate with them through GenieTalk. We’ll run a situation room around the clock during the Olympic period to provide relevant services smoothly. After the Olympics end, I think the PyeongChang Winter Games will be called an Olympics without the language barrier.

GenieTalk is used in 8,000 taxis in the Gangwon-do Province, 1,200 shuttle buses to Olympic sites, 1,400 accommodation facilities and 2,000 restaurants. It is said that GenieTalk is more than 90 percent accurate, as the interpretation solution has constantly evolved since its inception for easier and more precise translation.

Since the early 2010s, the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute has developed technologies about voice recognition and voice synthesis as well as machine translation solutions. In 2015, the institute made tech investments in Hancom, which was able to launch an automatic translation and interpretation solution in April 2016. At that time, the level was not very high. But after much trial and error, the service has now become highly sophisticated. We collected words and expressions used by Koreans who talk with foreigners, and we let machine translators learn the collected data. Repeating the learning process, the data has become complex and intellectualized to reach the current level.

Hancom was established on October 9, 1990. The day is celebrated as Hangeul or Korean alphabet Day in Korea. The company is famous among South Koreans for its mainstay word processing computer software based on the Korean language. As the nation’s leading software maker, Hancom made a great deal of effort to improve GenieTalk’s performance. Previous services translated each word or phrase separately, often failing to recognize homonyms and translating sentences inaccurately. They frequently made errors, as Korean has many abbreviations and inversions, compared to other languages. To solve this problem, Hancom applied artificial intelligence or AI nerve network technology, in which AI understands the overall context first and decides on word order, meanings and context within a certain sentence. The technology increased the accuracy of translation. Plus, machine learning was introduced for self-learning. As more data was accumulated, translation became more natural. Thanks to these relentless efforts, GenieTalk became an officially recognized PyeongChang Olympics’ translation and interpretation software.

Hancom has showcased GenieTalk at the Mobile World Congress and Consumer Electronics Show in recent years to demonstrate Korea’s technical prowess and promote the company’s speech processing technologies, which are now used in foreign countries. In 2016, Hancom signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Olympic Committee to offer an automatic translation and interpretation service to the 2018 Winter Olympics. We’ll provide a language solution equipped with great translation functions tailored to the Olympics.

With its world-class voice recognition engine for the Korean language, GenieTalk is even able to recognize the dialect of Gangwon-do Province, where the Winter Games will be held. Hancom has built a database of 100-thousand Olympic-related terms, including the words frequently used in the province, sports terms and the names of athletes. Even now, the company continues to conduct on-site tests and gather the opinions of users to offer a better translation service. After the Olympics, the company plans to use GenieTalk in various businesses.

From 2018, global sports events will be held in East Asia every two years. The 2020 Summer Olympics will take place in Tokyo, while Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Games. So, starting with the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, GenieTalk will hopefully provide translation service in those events. Usually, people see each other’s eyes when talking. But with an interpretation service using a smartphone, one person talks and shows the interpretation to the other person, and vice versa. This is rather unnatural. We’ll develop a wearable device to enable users to communicate comfortably with others, looking at each other’s eyes. That’s our second plan. Thirdly, we’ll develop another version of GenieTalk that can be used at the immigration office. When foreigners enter Korea, they first meet immigration officials, who use a lot of special terms. The new translation service can help out the foreign visitors. In other words, we’re preparing for a customized language platform tailored to a particular situation. We’ll offer the service from the second half of this year.

Based on its translation and interpretation technology that would be verified at the PyeongChang Winter Games, Hancom has various business plans in mind, including the provision of its translation service in global sports events and the development of an automatic voice recognition interpretation device. For this company, the PyeongChang Olympics will surely serve as a steppingstone to an even brighter future.