Amazon Envisions Alexa as a Universal Language Translator

You may soon be able to command “Alexa, Translate” and get sophisticated results. According to sources familiar with the matter, Amazon’s latest aim for Alexa, its popular voice-enabled assistant, is to become a real-time universal language translator. They say the tech giant is “seriously exploring” ways to make Alexa more useful cross-culturally. In order to do so, Amazon must significantly expand Alexa’s current ability to translate basic words and phrases in languages including Spanish, German, French and Italian.

According to Yahoo Finance, “Amazon wants to turn Alexa into a multilingual assistant who can help in almost any situation.”


For example, if a person from the U.S. who only speaks English attends an event in Japan, and doesn’t know any Japanese, Alexa would be able to help that person converse with hosts and other guests in Japanese. Alexa’s advanced capabilities would also include an understanding of the cultural context. In this same example, she’d know that Japanese culture is generally more conservative than American culture and would be able to incorporate that into the conversation.

“The cross-culture, cross-language piece is going to be big for Amazon and Alexa, and it has a lot of potential,” a source told Yahoo Finance.

Ultimately, Amazon wants to get Alexa to where it’s translating languages through any device, anywhere, giving users the ability to hold conversations in multiple languages in real-time. This would represent a significant step in a direction Amazon has long said it wants to go: developing Alexa into a supercomputer that can accomplish nearly anything via voice command.

Amazon’s progress is thus far impressive – “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices have been sold since the first Echo speaker went on sale in 2014,” reports Yahoo Finance. Additionally, by the time 2018 comes to a close, the Echo will account for 67.9 percent of the voice-enabled speaker market, according to eMarketer.

While Amazon may have a stronghold on the market now, companies like Google and Samsung are attempting to tackle this area, too, and with mixed results. Back in October, Google claimed that its Google Pixel Buds (with help from its Google Assistant) could translate up to 40 languages spoken in real-time, but the results left much to be desired.

Samsung’s attempts have been a bit more successful. Its Bixby assistant impresses by using augmented reality to translate text from more than 100 languages in real-time, but as of now, it doesn’t have the ability to translate actual conversations. Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana can translate words and phrases from English into less than a dozen other languages and their success remains limited.

Inside Amazon’s Quest to Make a Different Kind of Echo, Engadget, 3/8/18
The 5 Best Smart Speakers with Alexa and Google, Wired, 3/1/18
Google, Amazon Are Why Spotify Needs Its Own Speaker, Forbes, 3/5/18
Microsoft Drops ‘Hey Cortana’ in Favor of Just ‘Cortana’ on Smart Speakers, The Verge, 3/7/18