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Google Releases First Stage of Sci-Fi's Universal Translator

| 13 Jan 2011 18:12

Star Trek's universal translator will indeed become a reality someday, sort of, thanks to the Google Translate app's Conversation Mode.

We may never have to learn a foreign language again. An Android Google Translate app extension currently in development allows you to speak directly into your phone, and have the words translated and spoken in a foreign language on the fly.

The Google Translate app is already available for Android mobile phones, but Google announced this week that its Conversation Mode extension has started to roll out to users in a new update. Google product management director Hugo Barra demonstrated the feature in a 2010 presentation, and despite still being rough around the edges, it already seems pretty damn useful.

Conversation Mode appears to work in a remarkably simple manner. It uses speech-to-text technology, which sends a statement through the wonders of Google Translate, and then uses text-to-speech to read that statement aloud in a different language. It's similar to another mind-blowing app called Word Lens, but adds the factor of speech.

Currently, the recent Conversation Mode update is only able to translate English to Spanish, and vice versa. However, Google refers to Conversation Mode as still in its "alpha" phase, so functionality improvements and more languages will continually be added.

It might not work in exactly the same way as the universal translator from Star Trek, but Conversation Mode could make traveling around the world much easier when its kinks are worked out. The only problem I can see with the technology is if it mistranslates something, because the speaker would presumably have no clue. You could get into a pretty sticky situation if "Do you know where the bathroom is?" gets translated into "Do you know where I can get some crystal methamphetamine and illegal guns?" It could happen.

Source: LA Times

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