A patent filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office last spring shows that Apple is planning to equip its Siri voice recognition with a babel fish-like language translation capability.
The patent describes a cloud-based system that captures audio in one language and then issues a translation in the user's language.
The voice commands are recorded by the iPhone and then shipped to the cloud for interpretation. For example, when in Paris, a user's iPhone could offer a translation to: "Quelle est la date d'aujourd'hui" and in response the user could reply in English, with the other person's Siri translating the answer into their own language. The iPhone could use the GPS location to speed up translation by defaulting to the most likely language.
The patent refers to data currently being gathered by Siri to help it interpret dialects. Siri's ability to recognise languages is gradually improving as it builds a database of information based on the requests we are already making.
The Siri's translation is instantaneously delivered to the user via a bluetooth earpiece, similar to the babel fish described by Douglas Adams in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Siri is already available in American English, British English, Australian English, French, German and now Japanese. It is thought that the trickiest translation for Siri will be from American English to British English.