By Alexandra Burlacu | May 03, 2012 11:12 AM EDT
Technology has brought us all closer together, and thanks to the Internet, we can communicate with loved ones on a daily basis, even if they are across the world. In an effort to bring people even closer and break language barriers Google announced that its Gmail service will soon include an "automatic translation" feature for all users.
"The next time you receive a message in a language other than your own, just click on Translate message in the header at the top of the message," wrote the company in a blog post. "It will be instantly translated into your language." The feature will roll out over the next few days.
The announcement comes shortly after another language-related statement from Google. Last week, the Mountain View, California-based company said that its Google Translate service handles as much translation work in a single day as human translators could handle in an entire year. "In a given day we translate roughly as much text as you'd find in 1 million books," said the company.
On the other hand, the volume is indeed impressive, but the quality of translation raises some big questions regarding current computer-translation technology. When it comes to Internet translation services, accuracy is always an issue, and most people use such software only as a starting point. It's sort of good if you want to make a general idea about a piece of news written in Swahili, for instance, but most people seek human assistance for more important translations.
Google admitted its Google Translate is not perfect, but things are not as simple as they may seem. "When Google Translate generates a translation, it looks for patterns in hundreds of millions of documents to help decide on the best translation for you," explained Google. "By detecting patterns in documents that have already been translated by human translators, Google Translate can make intelligent guesses as to what an appropriate translation should be," added the company.
"This process of seeking patterns in large amounts of text is called 'statistical machine translation.' Since the translations are generated by machines, not all translation will be perfect. The more human-translated documents that Google Translate can analyze in a specific language, the better the translation quality will be. This is why translation accuracy will sometimes vary across languages."
According to Google, its auto-translation email service will be an important step forward for today's globalized workforce. Multi-lingual users can simply turn off the feature if they do not want their emails translated, while those who do just have to click translate and read the email in their own language.
Out of the Sandbox
This feature has been around for about three years, but until now it resided in Google's sandbox, Gmail Labs, which hosts innovative features made available a la carte. This move, however, brings this auto-translation feature to every Gmail user.
"We imagine a future where anyone in the world can consume and share information, no matter what language it's in, and no matter where it pops up," said Google's research scientist Franz Och on the sixth anniversary of Google Translate. "We already provide translation for Web pages on the fly as you browse in Chrome, text in mobile photos, YouTube video captions, and speech-to-speech 'conversation mode' on smartphones. We want to knock down the language barrier wherever it trips people up, and we can't wait to see what the next six years will bring."
(reported by Alexandra Burlacu, edited by Dave Clark)
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