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Translating 140 billion words a day

Google has announced last month the development of a technology (architecture?) for a faster and cheaper translation of a language into another. Why would they want a cheaper translation approach for their on line service? 
Well, fact is, their translation system is overwhelmed by requests: every day it translates some 140 billion words, or, put in other terms, they are translating a whole day of talks for 10 million people. Impressive, isn’t it?  This figure is mine, based on an average 14,000 words spoken by a person in a single day. There have been quite a few studies on the matter and the average is roughly in that size, although it varies considerably from person to person (but it seems like there is not such a difference, as some web hoax indicate between men and women).
Google is supporting 103 languages but it provides translation among a few of them (like: if you absolutely need to translate from Eesti and Cebuano then  first  Eesti is translated into English and then from English in Cebuano – actually the system does this for you so the double translation is hidden).
With this announcement Google reveals the development of the "zero-shot translation" meaning that now every language is actually translated based on the intermediate meaning extracted from the source language that is promptly coded in the target language.
It is like having a universal language to express meaning, independent of any specific syntax. A sort of holy grail for linguists.
Real time translation (or quasi real time) is not perfect yet, but is quite often good enough.  I am using it quite often to "read" Chinese and Japanese, something that was completely out of reach for me just five years ago. And, looking at the statistics published by Google, I am not alone!
I bet that in the next decade real time voice translation will become more and more natural and that will change our interaction with people and our experience of foreign Countries giving a further boost to tourism. 

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. He's currently the Chair of the Symbiotic Autonomous Systems Initiative of IEEE-FDC. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and up to September 2018 he was the Head of the EIT Digital Industrial Doctoral School. Previously, up to December 2011, he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books. He writes a daily blog,  http://sites.ieee.org/futuredirections/category/blog/, with commentary on innovation in various technology and market areas.