Google translation dream is pie in the sky

At a recent shindig at Google's UK HQ, a speaker demonstrated Google's voice recognition on a mobile phone, by asking his phone to summon up: "Pictures of Barack Obama and the French Prime Minister at the G8 summit."

The phone understood this as: "Pictures of Barack Obama in the French President at the G8 summit". Those were perhaps the pictures the world really wanted to see.

Speech recognition by machine has its dangers but now Google thinks it can also get its mobile phones to act as multi-lingual translation devices.

The rendering of misunderstood phrase above into French would further marmalise the meaning of the original utterance before it reached the ear of the baffled listener.

Yet the firm's head of translation services Franz Och, recently told reporters: 'We think speech-to-speech translation should be possible and work reasonably well in a few years' time."

Anyone familiar with Google's on-line translation service is aware of the problems machine translation poses. Any voice recognition-based system requires significant training by the user, unless we all speak some sort of standard Fox American. Something Gurgle acknowledges even if it does not cater for it in its current phones

"Everyone has a different voice, accent and pitch,' said Och. "But recognition should be effective with mobile phones because by nature they are personal to you."

As for translation on the hoof to any language, beyond the odd word or phrase, dream on.

"Clearly, for it to work smoothly," he said, "you need a combination of high-accuracy machine translation and high-accuracy voice recognition, and that's what we're working on,".

And experts agree they'll be working for a good few years yet.