The Star Trek Universal Translator and Babel Fish to Become Reality with Google’s Translator Phone?

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It’s true – Google is developing the Google Translation Phone. In fact, even though it is, by all accounts, two years off, the world is abuzz (we can no longer say aTwitter without risking a copyright complaint, can we?) with news of the Google Translator Phone. Is this the Star Trek Universal Translator, or the Babel Fish from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, come true?

Google is perhaps uniquely situated to develop such a translation phone, with a real-time translation phone service. They have already rolled out their own phone (the Google Nexus 1) and their own phone software (Android). And they already have a software-based text translation service in place (Google Translate).


In fact, there are already applications on Android that will translate voice input from one language to another, although it outputs it as text.

So the development of a Google voice translation phone seemed, in fact, almost inevitable.

According to Franz Och, a research scientist who heads Google’s Machine Translation team, Google is already in the process of marrying all of these various components, and developing the voice translation technology to create a Google translator phone, but it will be about two years before the technology is fully baked.

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According to Och, the translation engine would take full phrases, and translate them, rather than translating word-by-word.

Says Och, “If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there has been huge progress recently.” However, adds Och, “Clearly, for it to work smoothly, you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that’s what we’re working on.”

Then, of course, there is the fact of the basic differences in voice and pronunciation from person to person. Google is of course aware of this, and has anticipated it. Explains Och, “Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch. But recognition should be effective with mobile phones because by nature they are personal to you. The phone should get a feel for your voice from past voice search queries, for example.”

 

“The more data we input, the better the quality,” adds Och.

As for the ‘universal’ part, Google’s system is currently able to translate just over 50 languages, while there are more than 6000 languages spoken around the globe. While Google’s current translation offerings include many of the more commonly spoken languages – particularly in the business world – such as French, German, Spanish, English, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Hebrew, and Russian, as well as many other languages (Afrikaans, Albanian, Catalan, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, Greek, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malay, Maltese, Persian, Polish, Swahili, Vietnamese, Welsh and Yiddish, to name just a few), it’s a far cry from being able to translate all languages (let alone the differing dialects) the world over.

Nonetheless, a phone able to accurately translate even the 50+ languages which Google currently has in its store would be pretty fantastic.

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The Internet Patrol is and always has been free. We don't hide our articles behind a paywall, or restrict the number of articles you can read in a month if you don't give us money. That said, it does cost us money to run the site, so if something you read here was helpful or useful, won't you consider donating something to help keep the Internet Patrol free?
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