Google likes to create things that gather data, which can be used to determine intent and for all kinds of profitable purposes. There’s no bigger fish in that pond than the Babel fish – that invention of Douglas Adams’ in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series that instantly translates one language to another to make communication seamless. That’s because Google would be processing literally everything a person says to another (at least while travelling), which adds up to a lot of mineable data.
Google is working on exactly that kind of invention, according to a report from The Times today. Hugo Barra, Google’s VP of Android Product Management, told The Times that Google plans to make real-time translation devices that will translate language for simple conversation across language barriers. Already the system is “near-perfect” between some languages, Barra says, especially in environments where there is no background noise to confuse the input detection.
Google already offers Google Translate, which offers text translation, as well as entire webpage translation on the web. The goal now is to make instant back-and-forth conversation translation a practical, usable reality that can make it possible for someone to accomplish everything they need to in an unfamiliar language without learning a lick of it. As with most sci-fi staples, however, Google says this is likely still several years away from becoming a shipping product.
For Google, whose efforts include Google Now, the personal assistant and automated digital planner that aspires to anticipate your every need, building an instant human translation engine is not a surprising move. What’s surprising is that it works “perfectly” in certain conditions right now, and that we could all be walking around talking into one in just a few years time, which means it’ll be here before we know it. Time is an illusion, after all; lunchtime doubly so.