Google Invent the Automatic-Interpretation Mobile Phone

You have to hand it to Google – they only get more ambitious. This time they’re going to get us all talking to each other despite language barriers. Chinese? Talk to a friend in Hungarian. French? Chat with colleagues in Italian and Japanese. Yep, Google’s geeks are working on a mobile phone that will interpret in real time as callers speak in different languages. Franz Och, who heads Google’s translation services, claims the phone will translate speech into another language almost instantly. He expects the new phones to be working well within a few years and explains the company is hard at work on “high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition” in order to provide the service. The service is a fairly natural conceptual development from Google’s website translation software which has become more accurate after a shaky, often laughable, start. Already it translates fifty-two of the world’s 6,000 languages, including Estonian, Macedonian, Tagalog and Yiddish. The most recently added was Haitian Creole. Google knows all too well that speech is even harder to translate than text but plans to develop an intelligent phone that that will, over time, ‘learn’ its user’s accent, voice pitch and way of speaking. Once introduced, the idea is that the service will build on its beginnings – as Google Translate has – by using the ‘input’ of millions of users around the globe. BIt by bit, the service will become more accurate. The Google ‘interpret’ project has been met with scepticism, however, by some language experts. David Crystal is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University. Author of titles such as The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language and Language and the Internet , he believes the complexities of speech, including speed of talking, use of colloquialisms and range of accents may defeat even the boffins in Google labs. But just don’t bet on it.