I’m awake insanely early this morning, since about 4:30am, as the missus was catching the red-eye over to London to attend a nutrition conference. I tried to get back to sleep, but it just wasn’t happening. So, I decided to spend the dark hours of the morning catching up on the weekly podcasts – which are something I’m still getting used to : trying to find good tech-related content seems to be very difficult (any suggestions for good content ?)

One of the shows I’ve been listening to, is the BBC’s Go Digital programme – which is also broadcast via the World Service. This week’s show, had an item that caught my attention that I thought would be worth writing about – and the fact that it’s actually on-topic for this blog is a pleasant surprise, given the recent frequency of translation/tools related posts !

The item concerned the 2nd generation of a phone, the FOMA RAKURAKU II, which is being rolled out by NTT DOCOMO in Japan and is aimed directly at elderly users (I found one reference to it at
– sorry, finding more details about the phone in English seems to be difficult, but if anyone has links, I’ll update this post).

Targeting it’s intended audience, the phone has large buttons, a very clear display and an easy-to-use interface, with text-to-speech elements built in. What I thought was interesting though, was that it has a voice-slow-down feature. Incoming conversations are recorded, and can then be played back at a slower speed, so that users of the phone can take in all of what’s being said. The example used in the podcast, was someone who was in a hurry trying to give directions via mobile, and the recipient of the conversation was able to get a slowed down version of those directions (oh, please tell me that emergency-services operators (999/911/etc.) use a variant of this technology ?) Sounds like a really useful service, but apparently, the voice-slow-down feature is implemented on the server-side !

This being the case (you knew that The Network is the Computer, didn’t you ?) I started thinking – this should be on every phone, since all the intelligence is server-side : being able to slow down conversations wouldn’t just be useful for elderly users – if I’m trying to book a service where the operator at the far end speaks a different language than I do, the first thing I usually want, is for them to slow down ! With this technology, I could have them do that without having to embarrass them or me. Fantastic.

Thinking a bit more about that : what other services should we have on our phones that we don’t already, from a multi-lingual point of view ? In terms of making phones more accessible, wouldn’t the ability to have SMS messages interchanged via some machine translation system be useful ? (or even speech-to-text, machine translation and text to speech conversions ?) Yes, I really want a babelfish, but while those things are still fictional, would a simplistic implementation of existing translation technologies at least be worth exploring ? I’m sure there’s areas out there which could really help users that mobile operators haven’t started using yet…

btw. short status update, unrelated to this post : I’m looking at XLIFF 1.1 support in the Open Language Tools at the moment, and hope to have something before the end of the week. I’m also trying to cobble together a prototype for my next exercise in the “How much translation do we need” series, which I’ll blog about once I’ve got something working.