back to article Google (Voice) solves universal translation soonish

Google has managed to get some decent press by announcing that, in a few years, it might be able to translate speech - something iPhone owners can already do. The Times picked up the story, and breathlessly reports that such a development could "transform communications among speakers of the world's 6,000-plus languages" - …


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  1. jonathan keith

    Where's my microscopic invasion fleet?

    "The Hitchhiker's Guide also notes that, by allowing everyone to understand each other, the babel fish has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the universe."

  2. Anonymous Coward

    The question is....

    Will it support Glaswegian?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: The question is...

      No, the question is "Will it allow us to understand what our own friends and family are saying, even after they've been mangled by the codecs used in mobile phones?".

      Happily, the answer is probably yes, since "convert speech to text, transmit text, convert text back to speech" really can't be that hard, can it? Oh, hang on, they'll get Stephen Hawking to do the final step, won't they?

  3. MinionZero
    Big Brother

    "It runs locally on you iPhone" ... yeah for now!

    So how long before it starts leaking a few packets back to Google for "added features".

    Where few packets means profiling info on what you say. So then google can monitor everything we say.

    I'll wait for a totally open source non-Google version thanks. Then that way, we all can be sure it doesn't start to leak data for more "features".

    1. Neeblor

      Firewalls exist for a reason

      If you don't want a program to call home once in a while then the only way to be sure about it is to drop its traffic at the firewall

  4. morphoyle


    "something iPhone owners can already do"

    That comment really has nothing to do with the story, and I'm straining to figure out why you even included it. Perhaps a class in writing and journalism might help? I'm not trying to be insulting, but that comment really is out of place in this article, and it makes you come across as an Apple fan-boy.

    1. Mike Hanna

      Did you read the report?

      And perhaps how about the newpaper story?

      Googol = "Look what we're making! It will be ready in a few years! We're great! Aren't we great?"

      Paper = "Yes. You're great. We love you, and you are the future of our global society. Please have my babies"

      El Reg = "Let's have a look at one prepared earlier, and available now"

      ...El Reg was actually trying to balance out the newspaper report that (the newspaper) claims Google had invented the wheel or something. Are El Reg also DARPAtards as well as Apple fanbois?

      How dare El Reg say somehting about Apple that isn't negative! They must be dirty fanbois who need to wipe the screens on their iPhone a lot...

      Can we have "Do no evil" and "Do load's of evil" images?

    2. Snert Lee


      Because a bit of platform warfare drives up the number of eyeballs on the page?

  5. Writebaby

    American accents -- not quite, Cap'n

    In fact, as anyone well knows, when faced with a computer and a microphone, all geeks revert to speaking with a fake Scottish accent which owes its origins to Star Trek's original engineering genius Scotty. After a few hours of working with voice recognition software using this accent, the computer is effectively disabled for anyone who is unable to adopt this grizzled asperic tone. It is the earliest known form of a DOS attack on a voice recognition system. I personally originated this attack about 13 years ago when the first Apples came out with any sort of decent voice recognition. Although I am sure many others simultaneously created the same problem.

  6. Bill Cumming

    Hope the translaton is better...

    ... than it's Goggle Voice mailbox translator

  7. stu 4
    Thumb Up


    I go to Spain quite a lot, but havn't learned Spanish yet.

    Apart from all the 'teach yerself spanish' apps I have, the real killer on my iphone is jibbigo.

    true speech to speech. both ways.

    It was invaluable last week talking to the chief of police about where to pay a parking fine. I just spoke into it - he listened to iphone, he spoke into it, I listened to iphone. In 15 mins I knew where to go, how much to pay and what hours the city hall was open.

    bloody amazing.

    It's a bit slow even on my 3gs, but copes amazingly with accents (I am glasweigian!). The local Spanish thought it was amazing too. 9/10 times you'd get the gist of what they were trying to say, or communicate to them what you were trying to say.

    With a bit more speed, and more languages (only spanish at the moment) it really is the first true BABELFISH.

    Oh yeh - all offline on iphone by the way - no massive roaming fees required.


    1. Anonymous Coward

      Separate Spanish and Japanese versions

      There are two versions out right now. Both a bit more than your average iPhone App ($25 and $28). I am thinking about the Japanese one as I go there in a month. Has anyone tried that one?

      I suspect that they will come out with others soon.

  8. heyrick Silver badge

    Wake me up when... is capable of translating Rab C Nesbitt and my Scouse neighbour [*] into English.

    * - lovely person, but I don't have a clue what she's on about most of the time.

  9. Harry

    Sounds like a perfect combination

    Most text to speech sounds like it has been recorded by somebody with very limited vocal ability, and most google translations look like they've been written by somebody with very limited grasp of the destination language. So, why not dispel the doubt and put the two together, leaving no doubt whatsoever about the competence of the person who mistakenly relied on the translation service.

    And for those who don't quite understand what the problem is, here's what happens when you allow google to translate my first sentence into German then into French and then back into English:

    Most of the text in a speech as the sounds recorded by someone who has very limited capacity voice, and watch most of the Google translation, as has already been written by someone with very limited knowledge of the target language.

    Understandable yes perfectly very, n'est ce pas? And that's without even trying to synthesise it as speech.

  10. Mike Shepherd


    Sounds will allow Americans to talk to people in English without caring about the local culture and without the hassle of listening to anything they say in reply.

    Oh wait...

  11. oldskool73


    Well I'm a bit confused, as I've got Google translate on my 2.1 Android phone that does exactly this, I speak into it, it goes off and converts it to spanish or whatever and reads it out, sounds exactly like Jibbigo but with many more languages? .... Ok, just checked and the Jibbigo app does it offline, which is an advantage if you are traveling and want to avoid the nasty roaming fees, but other than that it is pretty much the same, so claiming the iPhone can do it and Android can't is wrong.

    I guess what Google Voice would do (being a telephone service) is translate your conversation in real time as you talk over the phone, which is a little bit more advanced and something that the mighty iPhone can't do yet either. Fair enough the Times article doesn't really make this clear, but you might want to research your topic a little before you poke fun at it?

    1. stu 4
      Jobs Horns


      well the offline is a pretty big deal if you ask me... I mean.. its a translation app ffs - when I use it guess what - I'm abroad... somewhere where the natives don't speak the queen's english.

      Also, some of these backward places (cough) are likely not to have 3g roaming.. and even if they do, as you point out it will cost an arm and a leg.

      so a mobile ONLINE translation service is pretty damned limited in its application afaiac.

      nothing inherently wonderful about iphone, it should run even quicker on a 1ghz android jobbie - but for now the app is iphone only that's all.


    2. Snert Lee

      also, sorta, nearly on the droid too

      Fiddled with it a bit, but the flow is somewhat less than ideal. Speech to text, Lang1 text translated to Lang2 text, vox synth reads out the translated text. Supposed to get better when 2.1 lands on the droid.

  12. gimbal

    Translator Hacking - the Good-Times-Funny Wave of Tomorrow...

    I cans sees it now. Teh 1ee7 kidd0z will be hacking daddy's translator boxes, and making youtube videos for all to enjoy.....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      I will not buy this record

      It is scratched.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    "get a general sense of what a foreign article is about, which is often all one needs."

    Apart from the one or two crucial mistakes that machine translation (whether statistical or rules-based) nearly always (i.e.>99% of the time) introduces that can throw you wildly off track, then yes, it is what one would normally want.

    Interesting to see an article on machine translation that actually only mentions the phrase "machine translation" once - and then in reference to "mad scientists" - as if this "innovation" were something quite different.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    6,000 languages? It's time to use the universal language, English and make all other languages are obsolete.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Universal in which context?

      Spoken in the most places, or spoken by the most people?

      Because I have a funny feeling the rightful claimant of "universal language" may well be Mandarin...

  15. petur
    Dead Vulture

    @ apple fanbois

    So what if the iphone app does 2 languages, Google is trying to offer this for 50+, and for free. You bunch of idiots will never be happy...

    And the article does indeed show again how much bias El Reg has gathered over time. *sigh*

  16. Anonymous Coward


    Surely all you have to do is speak slower and louder, then the whole world can understand english perfectly well anyway? No need for all the techy hocus pocus :)

  17. Colin Barfoot

    Una de esta, por favor.

    Is all the Spanish you need to know - provided you have a finger.

    Shame on you stu 4. And shame on me too...

    Once upon a time, I was in Rio without any Portuguese, and had to get by in English. Unfortunately the locals only understood me if I affected an American accent.

    So anybody wishing to sample Rio life, while avoiding a tedious flight, would do well to sit in a sauna with their iPhone, a sun lamp and a dozen favela types, where you can discuss the finer points of Street Dance before you realise they've filched your phone.

  18. Martin 57

    Google voice outside US?

    Great, can we have google voice in the uk now then please?

    last time i looked it wasn't available outside the us.

    I'll use it all the time to help with the Glaswegian.

    Tho hardcore Aberdonian is much harder to understand...

  19. rick buck

    Google? Translate? Are you kidding?

    Here in the 'ol US, we have Google411. And if it is any indicator of its success...well..."It can't even understand "Plain English". So as a translator...that IS a

  20. CJ Hinke

    All Thai-ed up!

    Unfortunately, Google Translate is complete crap when dealing with Thai language, both in and out of English. It even tries to translate proper names rather than transliterating!

    We don't know if this problem is universal to non-Roman text languages.

    Thai is notorious difficult but we don't think it's more troublesome than, say, Devanagiri, Chinese or Farsi. Anyone?

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