International travelers rejoice: conversing with your multilingual colleagues could become a whole lot easier if an experimental new AT&T technology bears fruit. The company is working to automatically translate texts sent from different languages into the preferred language of the phone's user, neatly bypassing the need for a babel fish. Basically, your friend could text you in Spanish, but you'd receive it in English.
Translation isn't anything new, but AT&T's implementation works automatically -- assuming you set a language preference for your phone -- and without any additional software downloads or add-ons. All the magic happens behind the curtain. Gmail can translate foreign emails, but you have to tell it to do so the first time you receive a message in an unknown language. If you receive another email in another dialect, you'll have to prompt the translation feature yet again.
AT&T employees will be the first to test out the translation technology, as it still has a few kinks left to work out. Currently, only Spanish and English are supported, although Technology Review reports that AT&T's technology could already support automatic translation for up to six additional languages.
The team is also working on a way to easily and unobtrusively know that a text has been translated, as translations often introduce errors in communication (to sometimes hilarious results).