PCWorld has an interesting article posted on the possibility of instant voice translation via your cell phone. At the Mobile Voice Conference last week in San Francisco, two companies displayed products that can turn your cell phone into an instant translator, although neither is available for consumers yet and both have very limited capabilities.
The first company, Novauris, uses software installed on the phone to create the translations. It only works for specific, commonly used phrases, but it will take the phrase you say, translate it into the language the other person speaks, and read the translation aloud to the other person. The standard foreign phrases are designed to make the interaction between you and the person you are talking to as easy as possible-for example, instead of saying “Where is the bathroom?” the software asks “Can you point me to the restroom?” eliminating the need to translate directions from the other language. The software is capable of running on a wide variety of mobile phone operating systems, and it will undoubtedly become a must-have app for travelers once it’s available to the public.
Fluential’s product requires a 3G Internet connection, but it is able to translate more phrases with more accuracy than Novauris’ product. The first version of this product will be aimed at helping nurses converse with foreign patients, supplementing or replacing the use of more expensive medical interpreting services. In tests, Fluential’s product was able to translate 80 to 90 percent of interactions at about 92 percent accuracy.
These are both interesting products, but machine translation is still nowhere near as accurate or flexible as a real, human translator who is fluent in both languages. We have a long way to go before we will have the capabilities to build our own version of Star Trek’s “Universal Translator.”