Back when I wrote about a new app called Spoken Translator that translates between English and Arabic over voice almost instantly, I got really excited. It seems that technology is coming increasingly close to the Babel Fish Universal Translator from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The NYT broke the story today that Google is developing mobile software that could universally translate between the world’s 6,000+ languages. While the technology is still a couple years away, apps like Spoken Translator are a good preview of things to come.
“We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years’ time,” said Franz Och, Google’s head of translation services.
“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.
“If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there has been huge progress recently.”
Google’s web-based translation services are pretty accurate but there are obviously far more challengers with speech-to-speech on mobile.
“Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch,” said Och. “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.”
In a couple years, Google will hopefully have enough data collected so that these two cultures will be able to speak to each other: