Only a month ago, Microsoft announced its "Skype Translator" tool that could translate live from English to Spanish and vice versa. Now, Google Translate, which could already translate text from dozens of languages, is about to receive the same kind of upgrades. When we can start talking to someone else that speaks another language, and we can use a tool that translates everything automatically, that seems like the beginning of being able to truly break the language barrier.
Both the current Google Translate service and Microsoft's Skype Translator aren't perfect when it comes to the accuracy of the translation, so it remains to be seen if Google has any improvements on that front as well, at least for a few main languages. Google says that 80-90 percent of the web uses only 10 languages.
Perfect translation from one language to another has been a problem that computer scientists have been trying to solve for decades, and we're unlikely to see Google come up with perfect translation even for a single pair of languages in the next few years. However, any significant improvements are welcome, as they make talking to foreigners that much easier.
Along with the live translation for voice, Google will also integrate the technology it received when it acquired the company behind the Word Lens app. Word Lens was an application for both iOS and Android that would translate automatically what you see on road signs that you would encounter in other countries. Google Translate will soon have this technology built-in.
There are also some privacy worries about this type of technology. One is about what this could mean for using voice as a biometric form of authentication. If you lock your devices using voice commands in the future, but you also have your voice stored on Google's or Microsoft's servers, those voice patterns could be hacked and then used to log into your devices. Google said that one solution for this could be using a more generic voice to translate what you're saying. However, that doesn't address having the company store your own voice before the translation happens.
Google hasn't said when the new update will arrive, other than "soon," and it also hasn't said whether this automatic translation feature will arrive in other Google apps and services, such as Hangouts. However, if successful, it may only be a matter of time before we see it in many of Google's products.