The New York Times reports Google is preparing to announce an update to its translation app that will bring real-time voice translation to mobile devices. Imagine how easy it will be to travel to exotic locations for a vacation. No more confusing conversations or scrambling to look up words in a translation dictionary.
The app currently allows users to translate text and speech for 90 different languages. However, users must first enter phrases and then view translations. A future version will work similar to Skype’s near real-time translation.
Google claims that the update will automatically recognize whether someone is speaking one of the supported languages and automatically turn it into written text.
If you’ve ever used Google Translate, you probably already know that the service is not particularly good at converting certain languages. I regularly use it for Chinese, Japanese, or Korean language news websites and the results are almost as indecipherable as attempting to translate myself.
The New York Times points out that language translation technology learns with use. Based on an experience with Skype’s translator, the program makes mistakes at first, but learns how to interpret natural conversation as people use it, similar to the way spell check programs and mapping services get better over time.
Google is also planning on launching a service that will allow you to hold your mobile device up to a sign it will automatically translate it for you. Last year the company acquired Word Lens, a startup that built an app to do just that.
Getting lost while trying to find the Louvre will be a thing of the past.
The big concern that comes up for me is about privacy. Anyone that uses Gmail knows how creepy it was when advertisements used to pop up with product ads directly related to a conversation they were having via email (thank goodness, that doesn’t happen anymore). If Google were to use similar ad support, we might be getting notifications for Coppertone after asking a local resident for directions to the beach.