Monday, July 29, 2013

Google planning to launch crazy 'universal translator' in near future

Cellphones definitely keep most of the world connected, but the language barrier is still a colossus that remains undefeated. Google is all set to change that, though, with plans to introduce phones that will work as “universal translators” of sorts, according to The Times. One example of how the device will work is letting callers speak into the device in any language, while the person they are talking to will be able to hear the conversation in their native tongue.

The company has said that the prototype devices, once created, will allow people to travel the globe without having to worry about communication. For all those who have read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, there will be many parallels found with the “Babel Fish” seen in the novel.

While talking about this device, Hugo Barra, a vice-president of Android services, said that the plans to create “real time” translation have been stuck in the early stages. But the executive is clear that the plans are still active, saying, “That is where we’re headed. We’ve got tons of prototypes of that sort of interaction, and I’ve played with it every other week to see how much progress we’ve made.”
Google has plans to introduce a
Google has plans to introduce a "universal translator" in the near future.(Image credit: tested)

While the technology may take years to perfect, Barra is positive that Google’s system is near-perfect for certain language pairs, like between English and Portuguese. The main problem faced is speech recognition. The company says in controlled environments, like rooms which don’t have background noise, the system registered close to 100 percent accuracy. The problems start when the device is put to use in uncontrolled environments, like places with heavy traffic, or when the user has a phone which has a poor quality microphone.

Google already has an expansive text translation system available. Google Translate does a billion translations a day and supports 71 languages with more being added every few weeks. The company has recently expanded its repertoire to include Bosnian, Cebuano (used in the Philippines), Hmong (used in South East Asia), Javanese (Indonesia) and Marathi (India).

The new device is part of the company’s Google Now project, which aims to engineer devices that will be able to pre-empt a user’s needs. However, there are critics who believe that products that can literally “read your mind” might be invasive by their very nature. A simple example given is the updates that users get for weather and traffic details. This data is customised based on the location of the user, details that smartphones are constantly updating the search giant with.

All this is a result of constant data collection and storage of user details. While the invasive nature of the project is undeniable, Barra has defended the company’s stance, saying that users are free to switch the system off whenever they choose.

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