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Google preparing to launch 'Babel fish' real-time translation tech

Google appears to be inching closer to a Babel fish-like smartphone technology that will allow truly instant universal communication.

Android VP Hugo Barra told The Times that Google is building prototype devices that will one day allow users to travel to any foreign country and immediately interact with someone speaking Farsi, Japanese, Russian, Arabic, or any other unfamiliar language.

Usually relegated to sci-fi stories, this technology may not be too many eons away. Barra reported that a recent test proved that Google's system was "near perfect" with certain language combinations, like English to Portuguese.

"We've got tons of prototypes of that sort of interaction, and I've played with it every other week to see how much progress we've made," Barra told the paper.

The search giant is no stranger to translation technology. Its Google Translate is available on the web and via mobile apps. But this rung in the evolutionary chain could prove a breakthrough in breaking down language barriers.

According to the Times, one of the biggest challenges of the real-time translator system is the difference in syntax — the order of words — from language to language. Speech recognition also interferes, but Barra said that the tech works "close to 100 percent" when used in "controlled environments."

Whether or not this means Douglas Adams' Babel fish — an invention from the author's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book series — could become a reality, it's certainly marks a step forward in back-and-forth conversation translation.

Google last week revealed a handwriting feature for the web version of Google Translate.