Google Talk now features real-time translation

December 20, 2007 | 13:23

Tags: #chat #google-talk #im #instant-messaging #talk #translate #translation

Companies: #google

Google's instant messaging program, Talk, now features real-time translation via twenty-three 'language bots' you can add to your group chats. Does this bring us a step closer to the Star Trek 'universal translator'?

Google has been offering translation services for blocks of text (and, for that matter, entire websites) for quite some time, of course. While it's always been possible to use this service to translate your instant messages, it's hardly been practical: type response, translate, copy, paste into Google Talk, send, wait for reply, copy, paste into Google Translate, translate. The new 'bots' introduced by Google use a protocol called XMPP which is open to all, so if you fancy making your own Elven-to-Klingon translator now's your chance.

The usage of the bots is certainly simple. Each bot takes the form of [language]2[language]@bot.talk.google.com; just replace the two languages with the standard two letter abbreviations for each language. To translate from German to English, for example, add de2en@bot.talk.google.com to your conversation. It would probably also help to add en2de@bot.talk.google.com as well, if you want to have a hope of understanding the reply.

The translation technology is still less than perfect. To give you an example, the simple sentence “Google has launched a new translation service that works, and lets me be understood in multiple languages” translated to Russian via the service gives “Google выпустил новую службы перевода, что работает и позволяет мне быть на нескольких языках”, which translates back to English as “Google launched a new translation service that works and allows me to be in several languages.”

Understandable, yes. An exact translation of the intent of the original, no. Useful for casual chatting, certainly. Reliable enough to conduct an urgent business deal with your broker in Japan over Google Talk? I think you'd better not sack your official translator just yet.

The late, lamented Douglas Adams once offered the following titbit in his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series: “Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.” A prescient warning, perhaps?

Does the new technology make you want to do your bit for world harmony and understanding, or are you just looking forward to asking someone in Spain if their “nevera está corriendo?” Sound off (in English, for preference) via the forums.
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