GOOGLE was developing software for the first phone capable of translating foreign languages almost instantly. The Sunday Times of London reports that by building on existing technologies in voice recognition and automatic translation, Google hoped to have a basic system ready within a couple of years. If it worked, it could eventually transform communication among speakers of the world’s 6,000-plus languages.
The company already created an automatic system for translating text on computers, which was being honed b y scanning millions of multi-lingual websites and documents. It added Haitian Creole last week to bring the language total to 52.
Google also has a voice recognition system that enabled phone users to conduct web searches by speaking commands into their phones rather than typing them in. Now it was working on combining the two technologies to produce software capable of understanding a caller’s voice and translating it into a synthetic equivalent in a foreign language. Like a professional human interpreter, the phone would analyse so-called packages of speech, listening to the speaker until it understood the full meaning of words and phrases before attempting translation.
“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,” he said.