Amazon “seriously exploring” Star Trek-like translation service

By | 2nd March 2018

  • Sources familiar with the matter claim that Amazon is “seriously exploring” a real-time foreign language translation service for Alexa.
  • Using Alexa, one could engage in a conversation with someone speaking a foreign language, with the virtual assistant translating as you chat.
  • This is remarkably similar to what Google attempted with its Pixel Buds. It seems Google would beat Amazon to the punch when it comes to this kind of tech.


Anonymous inside sources told Yahoo! Finance that Amazon is working behind-the-scenes to develop a robust translation service and build it into its virtual assistant Alexa. Although Alexa can currently translate words and phrases into languages like Spanish, German, French, and Italian, Amazon’s plans have far more reach than that.

According to the sources, Amazon wants to develop a real-time translator. Using Alexa, a person could have a conversation with someone speaking a foreign language, with Alexa translating on the fly as both people speak.

If this sounds familiar, it should: Google claimed the Pixel Buds could do the same thing, but the performance of the feature was underwhelming. Amazon plans to show up Google by making its translator the service Google was planning for the Pixel Buds.

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In fact, Amazon wants to go even further than just real-time translation. The sources claim that Amazon is also pushing Alexa to skillfully navigate not only the language but also the culture. The example given in the Yahoo! Finance article is identifying the differences, culturally, between addressing the father-of-the-bride at a wedding and the master of ceremonies. Your choice of words, level of formality, and even tone of voice would change for each conversation, and Alexa would help you with that.

What makes these ambitious ideas sound a little unrealistic is that Google has been trying to do this for years without success. And Google has Google Translate to work off of while it develops new translation technology, which Amazon does not have. How will Amazon beat Google at their own game with such a considerable handicap?

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While Google’s Pixel Buds real-time translation service didn’t work as well as the company promised, that doesn’t mean Google can’t refine the product. It could very well be that Google will announce an updated version of the technology sometime this year, and it could be precisely what we’re all imagining when we hear the phrase “real-time translation,” which (let’s be honest) is Star Trek. We’re imagining two people chatting and an electronic device acting as a human translator, catching our every word and meaning.

Could Amazon beat Google to the punch? Anything’s possible. But unless Amazon has some secret translation service better than Google Translate to work with, it seems unlikely.