Google's Best Idea: A Real-Time Translator on Your Phone

We asked Google for its favorite new innovation. Here is what they gave us ...

The problem: You're in a foreign country. You don't speak the language, even a little. You want directions to the nearest bus stop. How do you ask a local who doesn't speak English?

Where great ideas really come from. A special report

The idea: Google's "Conversation Mode" is a real-time polyglot and translator living in your smart phone. It listens to a sentence -- "Where is the bus stop?" Then it displays the translation within seconds, and reads back the sentence in the foreign language so you can have a (nearly!) seamless conversation with somebody in a foreign country who doesn't speak a lick of English.

Google is traveling around the world collecting speech samples from native speakers to expand their speech recognition technology, called Voice Search. They've added 20 new languages in the past year. Fourteen are available for instant translation on Conversation Mode.

The potential: You're in a foreign country. You don't speak the language, even a little. You want directions to the nearest bus stop. You ask your phone. Your phone displays the translated sentence. You show the displayed translation to a local. She speaks the answer back into the phone. The phone translates her response back into English. Voila! It's down the street to the left.

Want to share your company's best idea -- or your own! -- with us for our Best Ideas series? Leave your idea in the comment section or email me a description and a photograph at dthompson@theatlantic.com.

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The Best Ideas Series

Google: A Personal Translator, on Your Phone

Under Armour: The World's Smartest Shirt

Facebook: A Social Solution to Password Security

PARC: A Better, Faster, Stronger Internet

Andreessen Horowitz: The Camera That Focuses After You Click

Duke University: A Cancer Flashlight

Siemens: The World's 1st Hybrid Electric Airplane

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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