I think one of my most favorite things about the TV show Star Trek that has eluded modern technology (aside from a giant spaceship moving at light speed) is the ability for communications officer Lieutenant Uhura to speak English to every race. Yes this marvel of future technology was called the “universal translator.” As far as the show’s premise goes this simplistically named device was embedded in someone’s ear. Gene Roddenberry gave life to this hidden element of technology so that officers of the Enterprise could talk to all the many people of different worlds.
That’s great for TV but that kind of stuff won’t be possible for decades right? Wrong. You can have this technology right now but even better. You can SEE the words that are written translated like only the communications officer could do by looking into her screen.
On May 16, 2014 Google acquired the company Word Lens that makes a visual translation app that I must say works as advertised. With this
app, simply holding your mobile device up to see words on a sign, paper, etc were suddenly translated before your eyes into your language of choice. This field is called augmented reality translation. Integrating this into their Google translate product that already covers typed text translation and voice translation is the complete package to be your own communications officer and clearly is the move that makes Google own this space. Of course integrating all this into Google Glass is the goal so you can walk around and see the text in your language.
Three small hurdles. Thou this isn’t a major problem these days since most all languages on planet earth are already translated there are many dialects and local colloquialisms. A major example of this is Chinese. Parts of China can’t communicate well with other parts because they are speaking different dialects of the same language. The translation space would completely be owned with the addition of language learning (which by the way was even a hard task for Lieutenant Uhura with some languages namely Klingon).
The second issue is local (without internet) use. I notice that the Word Lens app was a whopping 41mb which I didn’t mind because it doesn’t need the internet. However, I tried to use Google translate outside of the country and it told me it needed Internet. That could be a problem that I’d be willing to sacrifice a couple megs of space to solve.
The third issue is that I hope those who speak Klingon don’t try to use this product because it’s not available. Microsoft has that integrated into their search engine/language translator Bing though.
Unlike Uhura, I think we’ll be ok with complete translation of Klingon though.