Science Fiction Just Became Science Fact

For those of you that are into science fiction like me, one cannot help but wonder when watching reruns of Star Trek “…will Captain Kirk’s Universal Translator be a device of the future that I will get to use in my lifetime?”  Well, I’m pleased to say that the answer is YES!

Earlier this week, Google released the latest version of Google Translate for Android (  However, the sizzle on the steak has to be a feature called “Conversation Mode”.  Here’s how it works.

You hop into a taxi in Madrid.  Unfortunately, your taxi driver doesn’t speak a word of English.  No sweat!  You fire up your Android device and say “Please take me to the airport”.  Within a second, a voice magically appears from your Universal Translator… um, I mean Android device, and says in Spanish “por favor, llévame al aeropuerto”.  Then, the taxi driver says “por supuesto. por favor, abróchense los cinturones de seguridad”.  Your Android recognizes the Spanish words and utters “Of course.  Please fasten your seat belt.”

Although this app, currently in its Alpha stage, is only available in Spanish and English, one can only imagine what we can expect to see in the coming months and years.  Ultimately, this technology will be embedded into your actual phone calls.

Let’s say you’re in Tokyo and you call a local restaurant to make a dining reservation.  While you’re speaking in English, the maître d’ hears your voice speaking Japanese.  He responds in Japanese and you hear his voice in English confirm your reservation.  The possibilities are endless.

One of the reasons I’ve always been a science fiction fan is that it encourages me to look to the future and ask “what if?”.  Think of how Star Trek has inspired inventors and technologists to convert science fiction into science fact:

Phasers on Stun! = Tasers

On Screen Mr. Sulu = Telepresence

Beam Me Up Scotty = … well, that’s still to come

~ Theo Szymanski

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3 Responses to Science Fiction Just Became Science Fact

  1. John Kelly says:

    In 1962 when I got my first desk job, aged 17 the only communication tools we had were a telephone, a typing pool and a telex machine. A few years later, and a new job, I still had a telephone, there was a typing pool and a telex machine but there was also this thing called a fax machine. It sent messages all over the world at telephone speed. But there was something else. On the mezzanine floor they had a computer so big it took up the entire floor. It used punch cards to produce all kinds of reports on reams of A3 paper. We were all gobsmacked.
    In 1983, when my son was only 8 years old, he asked me when I thought everyone would have a computer in their own home. A few years earlier, I had read sociologist Alvin Toffler’s book “Future Shock” and if that book told me anything, it was that change was coming whether we wanted it or not. So I answered, “Soon, I expect.” Toffler created an alarming scenario of “shattering stress and disorientation” as we moved toward a super industrial society. He questioned whether society would be able to cope with the pace of this technological change. He was not alone. Social critic and educator Neil Postman believed that uncontrolled growth of technology would destroy vital sources of our humanity. More recently Manuel Castells defined it more succinctly: “A technological revolution, centred around information technologies, is reshaping, at accelerated pace, the material basis of society. Economies throughout the world have become globally interdependent, introducing a new form of relationship between economy, state and society, in a system of variable geometry .”
    My son’s question brought home the reality that I was living in the embryonic stages of an evolutionary process that today, we call convergence; the coming together of the three vital links in communication: the information technology (the process), the transmission (telecommunications), and the content (the media). The fact is however, that it hasn’t come at such a shattering speed with drums beating and trumpets blowing. It has come more like a thief in the night, quietly, peacefully as if not to alarm but to engage and educate.

  2. Abid Ali says:

    Fascinating stuff. Although I haven’t seen this in person, I have to say that if it’s anything like Google Translate, it still has a long way to go. Regardless, you have to admire the fact that Google aims really high – trying to resolve problems with machines that most of us can’t possibly imagine – unless of course, you’re a Star Trek fan 🙂

    Speaking of science fiction sparking the imagination, here’s James Cameron’s talk at TED about how he was inspired as a young boy by the fantastic:

    Congrats on the blog! Keep the thoughtful content going.

    • Jim Hetzel says:

      This technology is absolutely brilliant. Google just released Google Translate for the iPhone and after just playing with it for a few minutes I can’t help like feeling like a kid with a new toy. Check out the write-up at

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