The ability to create a universal language sounds like something that can only happen on a Biblical scale. But Google just may be our modern day version of the Tower of Babel. With the large amount of data the search engine company processes on a daily basis, the past ten years have enabled Google to create quite a translation system. Scouring all those web pages to increase its search prowess, Google is looking deeper into its own infrastructure to refine its translation system.
And the data Google collects goes beyond text search on web pages. When it comes to building out a translation system, Google looked to billions of English words and phrases in order to get a handle on the language. Taking hand-translated copies of things like UN speeches, Google is creating cross-referencing tools for common phrases found in several languages.
In fact, several of Google’s ongoing projects tend to lend a helping hand to the company’s translation efforts. Google Books, which has flourished in some ways and gotten slowed by legal red tape in other ways, has enabled Google to scan thousands of books across several different languages. Having scanned copies of text to analyze gives Google yet another way in which to build out its translation services. Google’s voice-activated search tool also takes into consideration the spoken language, helping Google to further understand the context of words.
Google’s desire to create something of a universal language is, after several years of work, finally begining to match its accomplishments. To date, Google is one of the best computer-based translation systems available, and its free to use. Type just about anything into a Google query, and it can be translated relatively well in one of many languages. With Google’s ongoing efforts to span the globe and provide access to the web’s shared information, the company is quite driven to pursue projects that largely change systems beyond those of web search.
But that seems to be the thing. Google started out with search, and that has taken Google in just about every other direction possible. Advertising, email, social networks, mobile applications platforms–you name it, Google’s got its hand in it. All in an effort to bring information to people in the most convenient, accessible way possible. Right?
The New York Times tells of one project in which Google could expand its translation tools to photos. For instance, you would be able to take a photo of a menu, send it to Google, and have it translated in your desired language. In real time. This goes along with many of Google’s other initiatives, such as Google Goggles. The beta Goggles tool lets you take a photo of just about anything in the real world, and Google will do a visual search of sorts. As more photos are added to the database and appropriately tagged, the better Google is able to recognize them. Isn’t that handy?
So many of Google’s tools seem to work with each other and for each other. It’s becoming increasingly evident why Google has created so many products and services, as they eventually lead back into the greater goal of what Google is doing. And while Google is often one of the best in which ever industry it decides to partake in, there are other times where Google is the alternative and not the primary. Certain misteps in Google’s grand scheme could slow Google’s progress towards creating a universal “everything,” with certain projects meeting legal and consumer back lash.
Google Buzz, for instance, was met with great disdain by privacy advocates. The default manner in which Buzz connected friends via their email accounts was too far in the direction of open socialization and media-sharing. And Android, Google’s open source mobile platform, is achieving good numbers as it partners with several phone manufacturers and wireless providers. Yet the platform itself is more susceptable to malware, and can have a negative affect on the phone’s operating system.
So Google isn’t always perfect, and it’s not always the best option out there. Should it be our Tower of Babel, especially for things beyond mere language translation? While I think an ubiquitous communication tool would bring the world together in a very helpful way, I’m aware of the potential pitfalls of one company “doing it all.” It’s a scary thought, and it’s one that many consumers don’t consider when they’re using any given Google product.
In the end, I’m grateful for Google’s work on the translation side of things, despite the drawbacks and challenges the company faced in creating and improving such a system. Tower of Babel or not, Google is seeking to provide us direct answers to all of our questions.
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