Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) co-founder Larry Page isn’t content with his company owning the world’s most-popular search engine, mobile operating system and most-recognizable eyeglasses. Page wants Google to revolutionize the world of technology.
That’s why in 2010 he started Google X, a program designed to make sci-fi dreams and "moon shots" a reality. Previous projects have included a balloon-based Wi-Fi system, a self-driving car and an artificial brain. Even Google Glass was developed in the Google X lab dedicated to Google moon shot projects.
Now, Google Translate has begun a moon shot project to develop a voice-enabled translation app that could someday eliminate language barriers, and an early version can already translate 24 different languages.
The Google voice translator is slow and clunky, Franz Josef Och, the head of Google Translate, told Der Spiegel. But Och believes the technology will quickly become a viable option over the next few years. The goal is to make a voice translation application that can take any conversation and quickly and seamlessly return a translation. For example, an English-speaking tourist in China could speak into the app, “take me to the pharmacy," and the app would then speak the sentence back in perfect Chinese.
Google Translate can already translate text between 71 different languages. The Google Chrome web browser can also translate webpages with startling accuracy. The next step is an app that can handle voice.
The biggest obstacle is with syntax and ambiguity, as there aren’t yet algorithms built to understand grammar. Rather than develop dictionaries and upload grammar rules, Google is relying on the massive amount of data it processes every day to translate based on prediction. Like search suggestions, the more data that Google processes, the better the voice translation app will become.
“So what the system is basically doing [is] correlating existing translation and learning more or less on its own how to do that with billions and billions of words and text,” Och told Der Spiegel. “In the end, we compute probabilities of translation.”
Google isn’t alone in trying to build an effective voice translator. Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) made a public demonstration of software in October 2012 that could translate English to Chinese almost instantly while preserving the voice and cadence of the original speaker. Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) has also purchased a startup company that's developing a translation system.
Google hopes that with its advantage in the data department, it'll build one that is quicker, more comprehensive and be downloadable for free on the Google Play store. According to BGR, Google Translate was used 200 million times last year.
Let’s just hope that Google doesn’t translate everything into an advertisement.