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Language barriers are starting to crumble. This month Japan's dominant mobile phone operator, NTT DoCoMo, introduced the world's first app for real-time voice translation. When a user with a DoCoMo smartphone places a call through the app, he speaks in Japanese and his words are promptly translated into English, Mandarin, or Korean. To complete the conversational circuit, the other person's words are translated from any of those languages back into Japanese.

With this debut we've taken one step closer to building a mechanical Babel fish, the extraordinarily useful creature imagined by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. As any lover of sci-fi knows, the Babel fish is a leech-like critter that is inserted into the ear and lives in the brain, where it feeds on brain waves and provides simultaneous translation of any language in the universe. NTT DoCoMo's app can't match that universal utility with its current limit of four languages

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What they really should be researching is more natural auto translations.

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