Good News, Spock—We’re Getting Closer to a Universal Translator

The rapid advancement of Google-style, statistical translation may help realize this long-time dream.

From my Impatient Futurist column in the the March issue of Discover

Those of us for whom Star Trek serves as a benchmark for technological progress can only bemoan the fact that hopes for faster-than-light travel to other galaxies seem to be receding at warp speed, given that we no longer even have faster-than-sound travel to France. But I would prefer to focus on the bright side: We’re rapidly closing in on the Universal Translator, which means that when I do finally arrive in France, I’ll be able to communicate as easily as if I were on Earth.

The Universal Translator, of course, was a handheld device that 
instantly converted Captain Kirk’s futuristically clipped English into the language of whichever vaguely humanoid alien was offering to buy him a blue drink. It is impossible to overemphasize…read more

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