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One step closer to a universal translator

SpeechGear instantly translates not only text but speech into the foreign language of your choice.

SpeechGear Interact screen

SpeechGear's Compadre suite of translation software brings us one step closer the sci-fi ideal of a universal translator. The full suite of five programs gives you the ability to instantly translate anything you see, hear, or read into a ton of languages, including Spanish, German, Dutch, Iraqi, Chinese, Japanese, and more.

The most exciting portion of the software is Interact, which lets you have a near-real-time conversation with a speaker of a foreign language. You and your conversant simply speak into a microphone that's connected to your computer; the program uses voice recognition, machine translation, and speech synthesis technology to instantly translate your words both onscreen and out loud. CNET TV has video of the product in action.

Other elements of the suite include Interpreter, a PDA-based phrasebook with similar voice recognition and speech synthesis features; Document, which provides straight text-to-text translation of Microsoft Office files, with the advantage of preserving your original formatting; and the soon-to-be-released Camera, which translates anything you see, such as a road sign or menu. The whole suite runs on an engine called Composer, which lets you add your own terms and phrases to the word database, so for example CNET would never be translated as "see net."

As you might have guessed, the SpeechGear Compadre suite was originally designed for the military and is now being marketed to companies that do business internationally. And it's priced accordingly: Interact costs $995, Document costs $595, and Interpreter costs $75, while Camera's pricing has yet to be announced. But I have no doubt the investment will make sense to companies with global aspirations, and I look forward to the day when the technology trickles down to international tourists like me.