Google Translate now serves 200 million people daily

The company breaks down language barriers a billion times a day, it reveals at Google I/O. On the to-do list: real-time conversation translation.

Josh Estelle, a Google Translate engineering leader, speaks at Google I/O 2013.
Josh Estelle, a Google Translate engineering leader, speaks at Google I/O 2013. Stephen Shankland/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Google Translate provides a billion translations a day for 200 million users, the company revealed here Friday at its Google I/O show for developers.

Google doesn't often share details about the scale on which it operates, but Josh Estelle, leader for Google Translate's front-end and mobile engineering, had a few statistics to share about the service during a talk about it.

Estelle, who's worked on Google Translate for seven years, also said 92 percent of the usage is from people outside the United States. The Internet is famously English-centric, but it's expanding gradually to other languages, helped in part by technological change such as right-to-left text support in browsers, and Web addresses that can be written in non-Roman alphabets.

The service now works in 71 languages; the last five added are Bosnian, Cebuano, Hmong, Javanese, and Marathi, Estelle said. Initially, only some language translation pairs were supported, but in 2008, Google launched the ability to translate any language to any other language.

The amount of text Google translates daily is more than what's in a million books, and surpasses what professional translators handle in a full year, Estelle said.

Google Translate, a project that began in 2001 with outside technology, fits very neatly into Google's mission, "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible." Part of that work has been building Google Translate into Google services. For example, Google search results and Gmail have translation features built in, and Google Chrome can translate Web pages it detects are in a person's non-native language.

Google can translate text from 71 languages into any other, and its software will read the translation aloud. This chart shows the first 66; recent additions are Bosnian, Cebuano, Hmong, Javanese, and Marathi.
Google can translate text from 71 languages into any other, and its software will read the translation aloud. This chart shows the first 66; recent additions are Bosnian, Cebuano, Hmong, Javanese, and Marathi. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Another key area of growth for the service is on mobile devices; the Google Translate app can translate text taken with a phone camera, read back translations in a foreign tongue, and store language packs for use when there's no network connection.

Google Translate launched with third-party technology but eventually switched to Google's own. That technology works by comparing tracts of text that's written in two or more languages. Some particularly rich data to mine comes from publications from the United Nations and the European Union, he said.

What's next for Google Translate? Google has a to-do list, Estelle said:

• More languages. Google has 71, "but there are thousands of languages in the world," he said. When deciding what language to support, "It always becomes a matter of getting enough data."

• Better quality. "We think our translations are really usable. They're not perfect, though," for example, they're not necessarily good enough to power a Web site for use in multiple languages.

• Ubiquity. "We also want translation to be ubiquitous. No matter where you are, you should have access to a translation. There are still places where it's hard," he said.

• Real-time communication. "We want you to be able to translate things instantly," he said, enabling multilanguage communication among different people. "We want those conversations to happen."

Translating text is complicated. This slide shows some of Google's math for handling the task.
Translating text is complicated. This slide shows some of Google's math for handling the task. Stephen Shankland/CNET
 

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