Hugo Barra Reveals Google Is Working On an Instant, Universal Translator Solution

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Google news just keep pouring in, earlier this week we had Android 4.3, a new Nexus 7 and Chromecast, yesterday we heard about a new set-top box Google demoed at CES in January. Now, the UK Times is reporting that Google is working on an instant translation solution, just like the ones seen in Star Trek, which we already know Google is a little obsessed with. They want to turn phones into “universal translators” allowing people to speak in a language while the person on the other side of the call hears in a different one.

Android VP Hugo Barra said that they already have hardware prototypes, namely mobile phones, already functional and in recent tests, the system was “near perfect” with some language combination, Barra mentioned English to Portuguese specifically. Google already has translations available between 71 languages through its Google Translate service.

For any translation app you have two problems to solve, the translation itself and the speech recognition, so far, you can see at Google’s Translate website that translations work pretty well in general, the big issue is getting the right text from a person, speaking in a room with ambient noise and not directly at a microphone like what may happen with a regular person alone at home. What Hugo Barra said to this is that Google’s solution works “close to 100 percent” in “controlled environments” which might be perfect for diplomatic situations or maybe even courtrooms, but it looks like real-world scenarios are still out of the picture, like walking in a street with a lot of traffic, which has caused glitches in Google’s tests.

Josh Estelle, an engineer with Google Translate said:

“We want you to be able to translate things instantly,” “We want those conversations to happen.”

With the launch of Google Now, Google’s speech processing improved a lot, both speech-to-text and text-to-speech, showing great speed and great accuracy in most cases.

Barra clarified that the functionality is still “several years away” so we know that even if it takes a while, Google is getting there, and we might even see a beta version sooner than in a few years. Since its Hugo Barra saying this, we can safely assume it’s going to be a part of Android when it’s ready.

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