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Franz Och, with a copy of the Rosetta Stone, said Googles translation tool can make the language barrier go away.

Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

In a meeting at Google in 2004, the discussion turned to an e-mail message the company had received from a fan in South Korea. Sergey Brin, a Google founder, ran the message through an automatic translation service that the company had licensed.

The message said Google was a favorite search engine, but the result read: “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!”

Mr. Brin said Google ought to be able to do better. Six years later, its free Google Translate service handles 52 languages, more than any similar system, and people use it hundreds of millions of times a week to translate Web pages and other text.

“What you see on Google Translate is state of the art” in computer translations that are not limited to a particular subject area, said Alon Lavie, an associate research professor in the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

Google’s efforts to expand beyond searching the Web have met with mixed success. Its digital books project has been hung up in court, and the introduction of its social network, Buzz, raised privacy fears. The pattern suggests that it can sometimes misstep when it tries to challenge business traditions and cultural conventions.

But Google’s quick rise to the top echelons of the translation business is a reminder of what can happen when Google unleashes its brute-force computing power on complex problems.

From The New York Times
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