Monday, February 8, 2010

The Next Ten Years, Pt. 2

Recently, I predicted that within a decade there would be some sort of device which would instantly translate from language to another.  I pegged its arrival on the market as the year 2020. Maybe Google plans to beat me by a few years: 

Google's vision for a better world involves removing those pesky language barriers that keep people apart, and so the Internet search giant has begun development on a voice recognition and automatic translation system for cell phones. Such technology could either herald a new era of fruitful international collaboration or usher in new grievances and conflicts, depending on your viewpoint. The Times makes the obligatory reference to the Babel Fish of Hitchhiker's Guide that spawned bloody interstellar conflicts.
Experts remain divided over whether Google can accomplish its goal within several years, but the company may stand the best chance of doing so. So far, smart phone voice translators for English speakers have only come out for specific languages such as Japanese and Arabic.
Google already has a separate system for translating text on computers that covers 52 languages, and uses the company's special algorithms to continually scan millions of websites and documents as a form of improvement. It would presumably try to integrate the translation system with its more basic voice recognition system for smart phone commands.

Interestingly enough, Google appears poised to begin the creation of my predicted "Google Doctor" in the not-to-distant future as well. 


Brian Barker said...

Google's "Babel Fish" translator will in never solve the language problem. Not only does it discriminate against anyone who cannot afford a mobile phone, but against minority language groups as well.

There are 6,800 languages worldwide, not fifty-two !

Moreover, if I met a native in Borneo, and he said to me in Hakka "I've lost my mobile phone" how would I understand him :)

And how many starving Africans can afford a mobile phone !

As English loses its economic power, the answer is not for us to move to Mandarin Chinese, but to Esperanto which puts all speakers on an equal footing.

Have a look at or

Fear and Loathing in the Blogosphere said...

Learning languages ranges from difficult to impossible after childhood for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the tremendous opportunity cost associated with studying. A mobile phone drops the cost to almost zero.

As far as "poor Africans" go, the largest and fastest growing market for mobile phones is the Gap. If you don't know that its unlikely you've ever even been to a developing country.

As far as the number of languages, well, if I can walk around any G20 country with my Iphone and talk to anybody on the street I'll be happy. I really don't give a damn about obscure or boutique languages, but the open source development philosophy of Google will allow anyone to improve on the program as they see fit.