Google already runs a successful online translator, Google Translate, but they've got far-loftier ideas than simply converting the written word. They want to translate languages spoken over the phone, according to their head of translation services.
Speaking to The Times, Franz Och, Google's head of translation services, said:
"We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years' time.
Clearly, for it to work smoothly, you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that's what we're working on.
If you look at the progress in machine translation and corresponding advances in voice recognition, there has been huge progress recently."
It's not really clear as to whether Google wants to translate a phone conversation, or conversation around you (for example, ordering food in a Japanese restaurant). If it's the former, I'm unsure as to whether I'd actually use the software, although booking hotels in other countries might be one example.
But then, when everything's done online these days—and effective online translation services like Google Translate and Babel Fish exist—Google might find that by the time they launch translation software on a phone (presumably Android), it's too late and everyone can speak English by then anyway. I hope that's not the case, though. [The Times]