Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

The iPhone app Word Lens translates text using the phone’s camera and OCR software. For example, the words in a sign in Spanish, viewed through the Word Lens, appears in English. The translations are literal and it only works between English and Spanish but its conceptually very promising. Here’s a demonstration:

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Telegraphing Modernized

In the past, people paid by the character to telegraph information to distant locations. Only concise bursts of information denoting major transitions were telegraphed. With 160 character limits on IM’s, 140 characters per Tweet and 420 characters to update a Facebook status, in some sense we’ve returned to the telegraphic economy of characters but without the economy of updates!

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Until recently, I’ve thought of real time speech translation tools as perhaps becoming available within a few decades. During the last week, an experience and two articles have caused me to revise my estimates to within a couple of years.

The experience involved using Dragon Dictation on an iPad, in a noisy store. (The free software works on an iPhone and iPod Touch too.) I spoke at normal speed. Much to my surprise, without any training, the software transcribed my speech flawlessly and without delay!

Later in the week, I read that Google has added a translation feature to Google Goggles that allows users to snap photos of text with an Android phone and the software will translate that text. Currently it only supports translating phrases from English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish but more languages are being added. The posting I read can be read here: http://tinyurl.com/32eeocb

Then I read an article in Wired about Google’s efforts to create a voice to voice translator, based on phrases. Actually a translation will follow this path:


Although some people see these technologies as leading to the extinction of more languages, the article’s author believes that such technology will have the opposite effect because it will obviate the need to learn other languages and the need for a linga franca. The article is here: http://tinyurl.com/yb5bxjq

In short, in nascent form, the pieces of a super, real time translator program are already available and they are all free.

[A technical note: All of these technologies actually process speech and translations within clouds. In other words, a mobile device sends the voice or images to vast systems to be analyzed. Without a network connection, none of this will work.]

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After reading favorable reviews of Aardvark, a crowd sourcing website that lets users ask questions of other Aardvark users, I decided to give Aardvark a try.  Despite the favorable reviews I was skeptical.  Much to my surprise and delight, I’ve asked all sorts of questions on topics ranging from AIG to how to use certain functions in iTunes and almost every time I’ve promptly received good, solid answers.  I’ve also been able to answer many questions from other users.  The site is http://www.vark.com

One practice I find helpful is to add tags to questions.  The program attempts to extract tags but it is not usually thorough and sometimes is inaccurate.

Note: Besides using the Aardvark through the website, it is possible to use the site through IM and email.

Here’s a link to an New York Times article about Aardvark:


Update February 12, 2010: Aardvark was just purchased by Google.

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