At the Web 2.0 Expo on Thursday, conference co-chair and publisher Tim O'Reilly observed, "If you invent for the world that exists now, you're behind the curve."
As an example of this maxim -- attributed by O'Reilly to technologist Ray Kurzweil and strikingly similar to hockey great Wayne Gretsky's advice "to skate where the puck's going, not where it's been" -- O'Reilly pointed to Google's substantial investment in translation technology.
Google, in other words, is inventing the technological infrastructure of the future, where the U.S. and English play a smaller role and other countries and languages have become more active online.
ICANN's announcement on Wednesday that for the first time on the Internet, non-Latin alphabet characters are being used for top-level Internet domains offers evidence of this trend.
So it is that Google is continuing to invest in ways to bridge gaps of language and culture. On Thursday, the company announced the availability of a new feature in Google Goggles to translate text captured in an image.
Previously, Google Goggles allowed users of Android mobile phones to take pictures of certain things -- landmarks, contact information, books, artwork, places, wine labels, and product logos -- and to submit the resulting images as visual queries. Ideally, Google's image recognition technology would then deliver search results identifying the objects.
Google has now extended the range of things its system can recognize to include text in five languages. The company demonstrated a prototype of this technology that could only recognize German in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
"Today Goggles can read English, French, Italian, German and Spanish and can translate to many more languages," said Google engineers Alessandro Bissacco and Avi Flamholz in a blog post. "We are hard at work extending our recognition capabilities to other Latin-based languages. Our goal is to eventually read non-Latin languages (such as Chinese, Hindi and Arabic) as well."
Google Goggles v1.1 is available on devices running Android 1.6 and higher. To download it, scan the QR code on Google's blog post or visit Google's Android Market and search for "google goggles."