Google held a major demonstration on December 7th at the Computer History Museum and showed off a number of incredible new features. Vic Gundotra, vice-president of engineering for Google showed off five great innovations. But the one that caught our eye was “near-instant voice translation”.

This prototype allows you to search the web via voice, which is an amazing breakthrough, but it also provides near-instant translation. The initial prototype can handle only English to Spanish at the moment, and handles all the translation work in the cloud via your mobile phone. Gundotra spoke a paragraph’s worth of words into his phone and within seconds the phone recited a translated version back in Spanish. Google hopes to have support for all the world’s major languages completed sometime in 2010.

This is an amazing development in the use of machine translation, but it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Just like the machine translation we already know it will never be 100% accurate, and due to the differing accents and tones in peoples voices will probably give an even worse result than typed machine translation.

Don’t get me wrong – Google should be applauded for this major development. However, don’t expect a Babel Fish for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy just yet. In the meantime, professional interpreters and transcribers are safe in their jobs.