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Japan Cellphones Handhelds Software

One Step Toward a Babel Fish: Real-Time Voice Translation For Phones 131

the_newsbeagle writes "Douglas Adams's fictional Babel fish, which lived in the brain and could translate any language in the universe, was so incredibly useful that it simultaneously proved and disproved the existence of God. This real-time translation app for mobile phones, offered by the Japanese telecom company NTT DoCoMo, isn't going to freak out theologians any time soon. The company admits it has lots of work to do to improve translation accuracy, and it can currently only translate between Japanese and three languages: English, Korean, and Mandarin. But by allowing phone calls to pierce the language barrier, we just might have taken a step toward the universe that Adams envisioned: one where open communication between people of different cultures leads to an onslaught of terrible bloody warfare."
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One Step Toward a Babel Fish: Real-Time Voice Translation For Phones

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  • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @01:35AM (#41999049)

    When machines start translating languages on the fly, people will stop learning other languages and that's a bad thing.

    Right now, English is the de-facto lingua franca of the world, because peoples need to talk to each other for business purposes. I reckon that need alone goes a long way to (mostly) maintain world peace, because when someone learns a foreign language, they're also exposed to a foreign culture. Machine translators don't expose those who use them to other cultures.

  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @01:37AM (#41999061)

    The name brings back sweet memories to the first useful translation service on the web:, launched almost 15 years ago. The domain still works, but the fish has been gobbled up by Microsoft and it's redirecting to Microsoft's translation service.

    Of course Digital also got their name from Douglas Adams' masterpiece.

  • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @01:46AM (#41999089) Homepage
    Well, the only problem is everyone has to learn English and its culture, but no one from English speaking countries really need to learn others languages and cultures. So, it's not exactly a good thing neither.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 16, 2012 @01:58AM (#41999121)

    I disagree. It was because I was able to access content in my native language that I was more interested in learning about the culture of other countries. The easier it is to communicate with foreign people, the easier it is to learn about their culture. I really dislike the narrow-minded view that a nation's culture is only accessible through its native language. (I live in Quebec)

    15 years ago, I saw Akira in English. Throughout the years, I saw more Japanese animations, I read manga, I read documentaries, I learned some of the words and some of the characters. I also read a little about the history. I watched documentaries, etc. All of these things, all in English, they made a foreign culture more accessible to me, they allowed me to understand Japan a little better even if I couldn't speak the language.

    If one day I can converse with someone that speaks a foreign language and share with him or her our culture without having language be a barrier, that would be very good. Isn't that exactly what Star Trek showed us? The universal translator broke down the barrier of language, so that different species could share their own culture more easily, more freely.

  • by citizenr ( 871508 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @03:25AM (#41999383) Homepage

    When machines start translating languages on the fly, people will stop learning other languages and that's a bad thing.

    I TOTALLY AGREE, just like written word made humans stop remembering things!

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday November 16, 2012 @07:05AM (#41999995) Homepage

    Cant see how.

    Agree. In any pair of languages there's a lot of words/phrases which simply can't be translated without cultural references.

    This is where machines can't help (in fact they'll probably make things worse). Automatic translation is a noble goal but I don't think it can ever be a substitute for the real thing where there's a big difference in culture.

    It can work for limited cases of course: eg. The language needed for ordering 10,000 widgets by next Tuesday should be machine-translatable. OTOH the small-talk most salesmen engage in before the sale will probably lead to global warfare if attempted.

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