While computer scientists have yet to build a working "universal translator" such as the one first described in the 1945 science-fiction novella "First Contact" and later employed by the crew of the Starship Enterprise on "Star Trek," the hurdles to creating one are being cleared. That is because the practical need for instant or simultaneous speech-to-speech translation is increasingly important in a number of applications.
Take, for example, the hypergrowth of social networking and Skype chats that demand bidirectional, reliable, immediate translations. Similarly, when natural disasters strike, the problem of aid workers struggling to communicate with the stricken who often speak other languages can become overwhelming.
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