This is the sort of stuff that makes me want to hug programmers and engineers. Google and Microsoft are both hard at work rolling out updates to Hangouts and Skype, respectively, that will allow for real-time translation in a video call.
To be clear, the service does not involve a third party translating back and forth, but rather, as one speaker delivers his or her prose, the software will utilize existing (and improving) voice-to-text technology and then incorporate translation services to display translated text on screen. So basically, one can interact with someone else in a foreign language via subtitles. Pretty cool.
For its part, the Skype service is being used by a cool 40,000 people at this point, and reviewers say it still has plenty of bugs to work out, functioning more like a walkie talkie service than one that allows organic conversation. But bugs routinely populate the road to success, and programmers can track them to make improvements.
On top of the Hangouts updates, Google has been rolling out all sorts of updates to Translate, recently adding 10 new country languages to its service. Longtime users of Gmail will note the ability to change your email into Elmer Fudd and Klingon. Google is even working on an augmented reality service surely based in its longtime photo identifier app Goggles that will read foreign street signs and put up a translation on screen.
But with voice translation, the question of anonymity and security comes to mind. Being able to transcribe and translate anything surely requires the recording of that data, and then where will that data go? Will it be merged in with all our other Google activity to guide automated ads across our Google experience? Will the government be able to tap into any of this?
Skype officials say that with their software, the conversations are broken up into separate packets before the translation is even checked. Ergo, there’s no way to tell who was speaking to whom.
Macduff Hughes, the engineering director of Translate, also stressed that Google is careful with how it handles voice because of potential issues surrounding biometric security. Imagine the horror if hackers get into voice recognized passwords instead of the traditional written-form ones.
Regardless, as these new services expand and sort themselves out, the possibilities are endless. Remember pen pals? Kids could now have “Skype pals” where they interact directly with other children in a foreign tongue. International business could see fewer hurdles to success.
Let’s just hope some of the more amusing quirks of Translate never get resolved, because where would the world be without the English-French-German-English Google Translate party game?
Source: New York Times