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You can now use your phone to translate words while abroad without racking up huge bills

Holidaymakers can now use their mobile phone abroad to translate words without connecting to the internet and racking up huge bills, after Microsoft made its app available to use offline.

Microsoft Translator, which can be downloaded onto Android, iOS and Amazon Fire devices, uses artificial intelligence to provide accurate voice and text translations in many languages, including French, German, Greek, Polish and Spanish.

Up until now, the phone or tablet had to be connected to the internet to do this because of the large amount of computing power that was needed. Microsoft’s work in this field since 2016 means users can now download free AI-powered packs to use offline.

“The development comes after two years of work, and it complements Microsoft’s overall effort to make sure developers and users can access AI-powered tools where their data is, whether that’s in the cloud or on a device,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post. “That ability, which experts refer to as edge computing, comes as experts are figuring out ways to run powerful AI algorithms without the massive computing power of the cloud.”

Microsoft has optimised the algorithms in the app’s neural machine translation (NMT) technology, making it 23% better and the packs about 50% smaller. This means NMT has been brought to “the edge of the cloud” and can run on a device without the need for a dedicated AI chip.

The company has also given Android developers a preview of a new feature that lets them add online or offline translation services to any app. If the device is connected to the internet, the Translator app will get the translation from the Microsoft Translator service on the company’s cloud platform, Azure. If internet connectivity isn’t available, the Microsoft Translator app will use the local NMT offline language packs to deliver this translation back to the developer’s app.

When the device is online, translations can also use customized translation models that match the app and company’s unique terminology.

Microsoft said it expects this feature to become generally available “within 90 days of the preview release”.