Is There Much Of A Market For A Universal Translator?

This is what the future may look like. We probably won’t need a babelfish in our ears to translate languages. While this is only a technology demonstrator, it has enormous potential.
And this could have other benefits too – saving languages from extinction. Recent reports suggest that many thousands of languages will be extinct by the turn of this century as native speakers increasingly turn to international languages for economic reasons. With a translator (in the next 4-5 decades), the need to be able to speak another language fluently may no longer be necessary, and the increasingly boring harmonisation of the world may yet be stopped.


Microsoft has an impressive new universal translator demonstration – Chief Research Officer Rick Rashid shows a real time translation of English (voice) to Chinese (voice, via text), with the interesting twist that the translated language is spoken in his own voice.

Rashid writes about it here, and there’s a video. More here.

This is a product that just naturally resonates with people. We’ve all seen Star Trek’s universal translator, and translating devices are common in science fiction. It’s a cool feeling to imagine speaking with someone who doesn’t share your language.

Clearly we’re only several years away from having exactly such a service. There are apps out there now claiming to do this (I haven’t tested this one or any others). A couple of years ago Google was showing off and talking about a similar product.

And two and a half years ago I saw a demo of…

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Scientist, hobby photographer and amateur gardener

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