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Google Music Communications Wireless Networking

Google Pixel Buds Are Wireless Earbuds That Translate Conversations In Real Time (arstechnica.com) 163

At its hardware event today, Google debuted new wireless earbuds, dubbed "Pixel Buds." These are Google's first wireless earbuds that give users access to Google Translate so they can have conversations with people who speak a different language. Ars Technica reports: Unlike Apple's AirPods, the Pixel Buds have a wire connecting the two earpieces. However, that wire doesn't connect to a smartphone or other device. Pixel Buds will pair via Bluetooth to the new Pixel smartphones -- and presumably any other devices that accept Bluetooth wireless earbuds. All of the Pixel Buds' controls are built in to the right earpiece, which is a common hardware solution on wireless earbuds. You can access Google Assistant by tapping or pressing on the right earbud, and the Assistant will be able to read notifications and messages to you through the Buds.

But the most intriguing feature of the Pixel Buds is the integrated Google Translate feature. Demoed on stage at Google's event today, this feature lets two Pixel Bud wearers chat in their native languages by translating conversations in real time. In the demo, a native English speaker and a native Swedish speaker had a conversation with each other, both using their native languages. Google Translate translated the languages for each user. There was barely any lag time in between the speaker saying a phrase and the Buds' hearing those words and translating them into the appropriate language. The Pixel Buds will use Google Translate to comprehend conversations in 40 different languages.
Some other features include a 5-hour battery life, and a charging case that can hold up to 24 hours of battery life. They're available for preorder today for $159.

Google Pixel Buds Are Wireless Earbuds That Translate Conversations In Real Time

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  • local processing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @08:17PM (#55312263)

    We all know that processing is not done on the phone.

    Which means the real headline should read "Google earbuds will send every word back to the mothership for processing."

    • by lucm ( 889690 )

      We all know that processing is not done on the phone.

      I'm not so sure about that. There's lots of fairly advanced stuff that easily runs on mobile devices, like speech-to-text. The days of "everything runs in the cloud" are over.

      • Unless something has changed recently all that speech to text is not done on the phone, its all offloaded to servers. There are companies out there that most companies like apple, google, amazon, all the tv providers, etc, contract out to to handle their speech to text needs. They return back the text along with lists of intents for easy indexing and parsing

        • by lucm ( 889690 )

          It's nothing new.

          PocketSphinx is a lightweight speech recognition engine, specifically tuned for handheld and mobile devices, though it works equally well on the desktop

          https://github.com/cmusphinx/p... [github.com]

          • Re:local processing (Score:4, Informative)

            by ezelkow1 ( 693205 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @09:32PM (#55312551)

            And it says right there on the page
            "THIS IS A RESEARCH SYSTEM. This is also an early release of a research system. We know the APIs and function names are likely to change, and that several tools need to be made available to make this all complete. "

            It also has not been updated in 3 months, so its not extremely active either. Its not surprising its from CMU though, their flite library is widely used for speech synthesis all over the place for text to speech.

            Either way, the actual parsing being done on mobile devices is minimal at this point. Apple does not do it, and google does it only in specific circumstances with very basic things like 'play music', 'open gmail', etc. There is no in depth parsing to actually figure out context and meaning without the online component as of yet

            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              I imagine they will try to make this available offline eventually, because they do with other services that are related to travel. Google Translate (text/OCR via the camera) works offline, and Google Maps lets you download areas for offline viewing, and their new Travel app thingy has offline caching as well.

              The new always-on music identification system uses a local database too.

              It makes sense to do speech processing on the phone where possible, because it decreases latency. To give the best user experience

          • by vipw ( 228 )

            Having tried Sphinx, I feel comfortable saying it is terrible compared to the major players. All of them are doing the speech recognition server side. Nuance is probably the biggest technology vendor, but Google and Microsoft have their own in-house technology.

            • by lucm ( 889690 )

              Yeah I agree that Sphinx is not that great. My point was merely that it *can* be done on the device.

        • Re:local processing (Score:4, Interesting)

          by CanadianMacFan ( 1900244 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @10:05PM (#55312685)

          For the iPhone and iPad Apple still sends the data over to their servers to be processed. If you turn on Siri on the Mac it sends data to Apple as well. However you can turn this off (or at least some of this from going to Apple) by going to the Keyboard preferences and under the Dictation section turning on the Use Enhanced Dictation feature. This allows offline use and does the processing on your computer. It also downloads about 1 GB of data when you turn it on (the first time - I hope it keeps it around if you turn it off).

          While I'm sure that the processor is powerful enough to do the work on the phone it would be a big drain on the battery, at least more than the network used. Also storing 1 GB would really get people complaining. And that would probably be per language. I would also imagine the RAM requirements for such a program would be fairly heavy too.

          • It's more complicated than that - Siri does 2 things, speech-to-text, and AI/Assistant. The speech to text can be done on the phone directly (seriously - put your phone in airplane mode and use the dictation key, it'll work), but the AI/assistant part must be done on Siri servers in the cloud.
        • Just try it.... (Score:4, Informative)

          by virtig01 ( 414328 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @12:11AM (#55313033)

          1. Grab an Android phone
          2. Open Google translate
          3. Tap "Offline translation", pick a language to download
          4. Put the phone into airplane mode
          5. Tap and talk

          Surprise, it works.

          • Re:Just try it.... (Score:4, Informative)

            by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @05:17AM (#55313579)

            1. Grab an Android phone
            2. Open Google translate
            3. Tap "Offline translation", pick a language to download
            4. Put the phone into airplane mode
            5. Tap and talk

            ---

            Absolutely! As a quick test of my phone shows..

            1 Greta Indoor Fun
            did it open Google Translate
            three attacked offline translator pickup a a language to download
            for put the phone in airplane mode
            5 tape and talk

            Express, it works.

            • Grrr.

              The "5 tape and talk" is my typo. The phone wrote "5 tap and talk" correctly.

              My phone stabs me in the back every... single... day.

              It is probably useful for translation- but I wouldn't count on it for anything complicated.

              And especially not jargon or idioms.

               

        • Google has been doing "offline" voice recognition directly on phones for a few years now.
          http://stackandroid.com/tutori... [stackandroid.com]

          Adding a translation layer that also runs locally isn't that far fetched.

    • We all know that processing is not done on the phone.

      Indeed you're right, unless you simply click the "download" button on the language pack in Google translate allowing you to use all of the features including audio and video live translation offline without any data connection. You know, like a person who is in another country is expected to be able to without incurring roaming charges.

      I know sorry, doesn't fit your anti-Google narrative. Damn those pesky facts.

      • by vipw ( 228 )

        Roaming charges will go away. The internet is going to be big some day, just be patient.

        I'm not sure local processing is going to make sense for machine learning applications. The real-world usage expands the training corpus which means the online services will continue to improve.

  • For this to be a killer-app it needs to be on-device translation. High-speed internet connections and high-speed mobile data connections are not common enough outside (and even inside) cities for this to be something you could usefully rely upon.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @08:22PM (#55312291) Journal

    I could see where this could be useful. Just last week, I went to the Thai massage parlor and the girl asked me if I wanted "the works". When I said yes, they gave me a mop and bucket and told me to start in the lobby.

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @08:33PM (#55312339)

    This is clearly the most high-tech way yet to say: "My hovercraft is full of eels"

  • Any steps towards effective universal translators are most welcome!

  • by Fly Swatter ( 30498 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @08:37PM (#55312357) Homepage

    This sounds like you need the GOOGLE earbuds to allow translation services, which happens on the phone. Is this just an attempt at vendor lock-in? Or will this work with any bluetooth headphone supporting device? I don't see how it could.

    This abandonment of the headphone jack really looks to be rather expensive and inconvenient to the end user. Almost feels like they are copying the inkjet printer refill fiasco.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes you need the Google earbuds. It was done that way for "UX reasons". https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15404918 [ycombinator.com]

      The earbuds send the data to the phone which sends it to Google which translates everything into "my hovercraft is full of eels" and then sends it back to your phone which sends it to the earbuds.

      The only new part here is of course the earbuds.

      • by tw2k ( 4011579 )
        All good reasons on that link... until you remember that none of those reasons would apply if they had kept a 3.5mm headphone socket for wired headphones.
        • All good reasons on that link... until you remember that none of those reasons would apply if they had kept a 3.5mm headphone socket for wired headphones.

          WTF does a 3.5 mm headphone jack have to do with BT earbuds?

          If anything, that makes this product MORE compatible across devices and platforms.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by ffkom ( 3519199 )

      This sounds like you need the GOOGLE earbuds to allow translation services, which happens on the phone.

      Translation does not happen on the phone. All what you hear will be sent to Google, probably primarly for "optimizing advertisements presented to you" and other eavesdropping purposes, and secondarily, Google will attempt some translation sent back to your phone.
      Unless, of course, you have no Internet connection or service from Google, in which case there is no translation at all.

      • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @05:08AM (#55313563)

        Translation does not happen on the phone. All what you hear will be sent to Google

        Precisely. Unless you simply download the small language pack in Google translate enabling it to work on video, audio and text completely offline. You know, like when you're in another country without mobile coverage.

        Oh what, didn't fit your narrative?

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          The story that the translation happens in the earbuds is simply lie. Questioning the obvious like doesn't mean one has an agenda. Default in the cloud, with options for on the phone. It was a lie by omission in the article. Why are you supporting their lies?
        • by ffkom ( 3519199 )

          Translation does not happen on the phone. All what you hear will be sent to Google

          Precisely. Unless you simply download the small language pack in Google translate enabling it to work on video, audio and text completely offline. You know, like when you're in another country without mobile coverage.

          Great. Then tell me please the link where to download the the "small language pack" for Greece, where I intended to spend my next holiday. Or is there none to fit your narrative?

          • Err the download button is immediately to the right of the language select button, next to the word "Greek".

            Silly users don't fit the narrative very well.

    • Or will this work with any bluetooth headphone supporting device? I don't see how it could.

      I think this may be vendor lock-in. There doesn't seem to be any capability here that isn't part of Google translate with the exception of doing it with a button from the headset.

    • No, normal Bluetooth headphones should work, assuming you use your phone a microphone for the other person. The translation service should also work offline as long as you're using an android phone (although, it won't be as good as the online translation).

      I think this is just a marketing play because Google noticed that a different manufacturer did something similar with android hardware that one would place around one's neck and charged thousands of dollars for the device.

  • You've been able to do more or less the same demo with an Android Gear watch and phone for a couple of years. The output was just text instead of spoken aloud. Honestly it would be a lot nicer if both people could just speak through a single phone. Their new ability to recognize speakers combined with language detection should be enough for that, you'd think. This just feels awkward. If you could invite a robot translator into a phone call, that would be awesome.

  • Come on, Google, you know everybody's just going to call it "Babelfish."

    • If it actually worked in the real world using local processing, then maybe we might call it that in a few years after its proven its usefullnes. Babelfish is reserved for something that actually works, ubiquitously.
  • by fyzikapan ( 1223238 ) on Wednesday October 04, 2017 @09:44PM (#55312601) Homepage
    My first reaction upon reading this was, "Wow, that's a game changer. Time to embrace Google." This would be fantastic for someone like me who is routinely around people speak little to no English.

    Then I remembered that Google Translate mostly churns out total nonsense when going to/from Chinese, and I was less excited.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If it was just Google Translate's normal gibberish it might just still be barely usable, but when paired with voice recognition the failure will be spectacular. You'll probably have better luck with the tried-and-true 'Keep speaking english, just slower and much louder' technique.

  • I just pulled out my phone, opened Translate, spoke and immediately had the translation spoken back to me.
    I still think its pretty cool, but what is it about these new earbuds that has any bearing on this bidirectional spoken translation capability which has been baked into the Translate app for ages?
    • The difference is you need to buy something new for the same functionality.

      Consumerism as slightly more subtle use. 2 people with ear buds instead of holding their phones while talking.

      • Right, because earbuds are exactly the same thing as pulling out your phone and talking into it.
        I bet you still bring your food up to the roof and put it in front of your radar antenna, because that's exactly the same thing as using a microwave...
  • Anyone who speaks more than one language will tell you that context is one of the biggest hurdles in translating language. It's not just straight word for word translation, the context might not be given until you get to the end of the sentence, so it is actually impossible to translate language in real time.
    Even for native speakers of multiple languages you have to wait until the end of the sentence before translating. So the TFS is fucking bullshit (again).
    • by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @01:35AM (#55313205)
      So you mean Google does not know the context? Let's see:

      - They know your location
      - They know the weather and all events at the place where you are

      - They know your name
      - They know where you live
      - They may know your friends
      - They know what you watched on Youtube
      - They know what you have been searching for online
      - They know all things mentioned above about the person you are talking to

      Combine this with some facial expression recognition, which should be possible with iPhone8, and some more context recognition via camera, and you will have more context than most human translators would have.
      • That is just a completely stupid statement. None of that information provides context into a current conversation as they are situational dependent, and not dependent on your personal information.

        Translators can get far more context into translating language without knowing any of the above information.

      • So you mean Google does not know the context? Let's see: Ok maybe I didn't make it clear. The order of the words in a sentence differ in different languages, so before you can translate you have to hear the entire sentence in order to accurately translate it. This is what I meant by context. Since you have to wait to hear an entire sentence before translating it can never be real time.

    • Anyone who speaks more than one language will tell you that context is one of the biggest hurdles in translating language. It's not just straight word for word translation, the context might not be given until you get to the end of the sentence, so it is actually impossible to translate language in real time.

      Even for native speakers of multiple languages you have to wait until the end of the sentence before translating. So the TFS is fucking bullshit (again).

      You'd be right if you weren't wrong, or at least partially. Word for word translation often gets you very far through if you have the ability to recognise what is being said through a damaged sentence structure. Google translate has done this for a long time already with its image translation feature.

      If you use the live translation feature it will offer word for word replacement. If you take the picture and select the words it attempts to translate with context. Depending on the differences in the languages

  • I'm not sure I'd ever trust the translation capability of a device that called themselves "Pixel Earbuds". Those words just don't go together.

  • by passionplay ( 607862 ) on Thursday October 05, 2017 @01:57AM (#55313245)
    All hail Douglas Adams. So long and thanks for all the fish.
  • hope they work better than google translate! as if that translation engine is used you are well and truly up shit creek without a paddle if you rely on the shit translations it provides.
  • As a traveler and not afraid of the outside world, Google or AI this is a great step forward. I use Google translate roughly 2-3 times a month and it's really helpful when you run a team that speaks different languages. I wouldn't call it spot on accurate, but it's far easier than thumbing through a dictionary translator.

    I hope this advances to the point that the Google Assistant also offers up cultural tips during introductions.
  • People will now be hearing all kinds of "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra", finally realizing how much of what we say is in phrases and not words.

    Ahh, their eyes open; their sails unfurl.

  • Anyone got a link to the video that works?

  • I've worked with people from so many nationalities across the world. Something like this is truly amazing and a great step forward.
  • The "universal translator" LOL.
  • First, how does it know, or do you tell it, what language to translate?

    And second... I read that red book that led me to want to learn more about lead, and wha's happenin', babeeee?

    At work, we have a "hybrid phone, and we get "voicemail previews" "powered by M% speech technology". They range from sorta-kind ok, to Vogon poetry. Now, *I* wouldn't let alpha software out the door, but we are talking M$, where *you* are the (unpaid) beta tester.

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