Google’s translation tech is about to get even more powerful.
The company will soon add a new feature to its Translate app that makes the service even more like an actual human translator: transcriptions. The feature is expected to roll out to the Android version of the Translate app in the next few months (Google hasn’t said when an iOS version might be available to iPhone users).
The feature is similar to how real-time transcription works in Google’s Recorder app, except that it’s also translating the speaker’s words (into whatever specified language) rather than simply transcribing them. So, if you’re in a meeting or a lecture, the app will be able to, almost instantly, generate a translated transcription of the speaker’s words as you listen along.
Google isn’t offering full demos of the feature just yet, but in a video shown at a press event in San Francisco, the transcription looked almost as seamless as what you’d see in Google’s Recorder app or with Live Captions. However, instead of transcribing word by word, the Translate app transcribes smaller chunks of text.
The reason for that, according to Google, is because translations are more complicated than a standard transcription. Just as a human translator would need a few seconds to process what someone is trying to say before deciding how best to translate it, the Translate app also needs to determine how best to translate the audio it hears.
“We would like to get to that level of quality such that it’s comparable to someone who is a native speaker just literally translating something for you. We hope to get there one day,” Google product manager Nick Radicevic said during the company’s press event.
Radicevic also notes there are a number of other factors that could affect the quality of the transcription, including your phone’s microphone, or even whether or not there’s a case on your phone (since a case could interfere with your mic). Additionally, every language has its own nuances that can complicate translations, though he says the goal is to have transcriptions available for “all the major” languages currently supported by the Translate app.
But even with some limitations, transcriptions could open up a slew of new possibilities for Google’s translation tech. Just as Google Assistant’s “Interpreter Mode” is incredibly useful for short conversations, transcriptions could offer help with longer chunks of audio that might otherwise be inaccessible.