Can I have my Google Universal Translator now?

Nov 21, 2009

There have been a lot of changes and additions to services offered by Google in the past couple of weeks, and the way I see it, we’re no more than 6 months away from having a Google phone, that allows you to talk in English, and have your partner across the globe hear you in Chinese – and vise-versa.

As far back as two years ago, Google looked bid on an auction for American airwaves. Had they won this auction, they would have had the option of becoming a mobile carrier then and there. Android may never have been developed, or (more likely), would have come to be very differently.

Even without its own airwaves, with Android, Google has gotten quite a serious foot in the mobile door, and this week rumors of a phone developed by Google (rather than just the OS), have arisen. More accurately, these rumors say this won’t be so much a phone, as much as a 3G enabled hand-held computer.
(On a side note, let me say that I’d be very pleased to see this happen – the differentiation of voice from other data-transfer services has lasted far longer than it should have, since this is the milking cow of the mobile industry. Well, that and text messages)

But having an operating system for mobile phones is not enough, if you want to offer an end-to-end mobile service. This is where Google’s acquisition of Gizmo5 last week comes in: Take an Internet-only mobile device, install on it a SIP client that can communicate with Gizmo5, rout your Google Voice phone number to your Gizmo5 account, and you have end-to-end voice communication from any telephone to your mobile device. And as a bonus – there’s no per-minute charge.

Voice is definitely a big deal for Google at the moment. Over the past six months, Google has significantly improved it’s voice transcription technology. As has been the case with Google Voice from day one, and as they incorporated into YouTube this past week, Google can take any sentence, and transcribe it automatically, with amazing accuracy. It’s possible that for now this only works — or works best — for English, but it’s just a matter of time till it’s the case for the world’s 20 most spoken languages (And Klingon and Elvish, no doubt).

Google have also made huge strides as far as text translation goes. The new design of the Google Translate page is more intuitive, includes an Auto Detect option for the language of the text you’re inputting, and offers a translate-as-you-type feature. This same simultaneous translation was rolled out in Google Wave from the start, and two weeks ago they launched a translation service in Google Reader.

Putting it all together
So Google now has the ability to transcribe the spoken word to text, the ability to simultaneously translate text from one language to another, and the ability to read text out loud. And they have a growing influence on mobile communication. I think it’s trivial that putting all these together will lead to a mobile universal translator, where you speak in your native language on your end, Google detects the language your speaking, automatically translates it to your peer’s language of choice, and speaks it out loud to her on her side of the world.

The only thing missing for now, to make this perfect, would be for the reading out loud to be done in your voice. However, I have no doubt that Google are already working on developing the tech for this, or looking to buy any startup in this field.
If you want to get bought by Google, I think this is a field where you should be investing your R&D.

The best thing about Google’s tech, is that even if Google themselves don’t put all the pieces together to create a UT, it’s a rather simple mashup for anyone else to do so with their tech.

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