Google is working on a universal translator

No estimated time of arrival given

GOOGLE JUST CAN’T stop dreaming up now products, good ones too, but its latest stroke of genius might one day be something that no traveller will leave home without. If you’ve read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy then you might be familiar with the Babel Fish, although Google hasn’t gone quite that far in its efforts to come up what it said is a universal translator.

Although we’re still a far ways away from a practical application, we can only commend Google for actually spending time and resources doing this, least not for those that only speak one language. There’s of course some thought put into this and Google will most likely implement its universal translation software into its Android Smartphone OS. This is because unlike Google Translate, the universal translator will work with voice rather than text and as such it needs to be fitted into a device small enough to fit in your pocket.

Google Translate offers translation of pretty much anything you can throw at it from any one of 52 languages, as long as you’re in front of a computer and you can read the output. However, if you’ve actually ever read the actual output from a Google translation you’ll quickly understand that it’s not a very accurate solution in most instances. It does of course depend heavily on the input and output languages, but it’s still far from being usable for anything much more than casual translation of web pages.

The universal translation solution will combine the best parts of Google Translate with Google’s voice recognition system that is currently a part of Android and enables users to use their voice to issue commands to their handset. Combining the two is in itself unlikely to cause too much of a hassle, but we’re curious as to how well this will work in real life. Not only does Google Translate throw a few spanners in the wheel in its current state, but if you’ve ever used voice recognition software on a phone, then you’ll know how often you have to repeat commands.

In all fairness, voice recognition has improved vastly over the years, but for those with an accent, or even worse, if you’re speaking a language that isn’t your mother tongue, you might experience a few problems. We’re of course some few years away from the day when Google will unleash its universal translator onto the world, so hopefully we’ll see an improvement of both Google Translate and voice recognition by then.

We still can’t help but snicker at the potential translation disasters, especially for tonal sensitive languages like Mandarin and Cantonese which rely heavily on the tone to convey the correct meaning of a word. Another problem will be in countries such as Japan where the tone conveys your relationship to the person you’re speaking with.

Nonetheless, we are looking forward to the day when we can travel the world and be able to communicate with people, no matter where we are.  If Google is allowed to dream, so can we.S|A

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