In the aftermath of World War III, the few survivors tried to piece together what had gone so horribly wrong, as all memory of civilization rapidly receded in the daily struggle for survival. The time line leading up to the cataclysm was roughly as follows:

Google did a major revamping of Google Translate, the language tools that performed translations of human languages. Google Translate supported at that time 51 languages, which implied a total of 2550 language-to-language combinations in order to provide all possible translations, for example between Ukrainian and Catalan. Instead of having to implement and maintain all these many combinations, Google created a new artificial language, Googlish, with a simple grammar and a completely unambiguous vocabulary. Now all translations were done in two steps, first from language A to Googlish, and then from Googlish to language B. The result was not only a huge reduction in the number of language combinations needed to be supported (from 2550 to 51) but increased quality of the translations.

The number of languages supported by Google Translate had increased to 103, covering every human language spoken by five million people or more, or about 95% of the world’s population’s native languages. Most web sites and chat forums had become multilingual, in that everyone could view the site in their own language and contribute in their own language, thanks to Googlish. But the more exciting news was that the language processing techniques used by Google Translate had been applied to speech recognition. Google was now providing an online service that transcribed spoken words as written text, and with greater accuracy than previous methods.

In a rather obvious further development of its technologies, Google Translate was now, with the help of Googlish, transcribing words spoken in one language into written text in any other language. The number of supported human languages was now up to 152, covering approx. 98% of the native languages of the peoples of the world.

In another rather obvious development, Google Translate was able to read aloud text in any of the 174 supported languages. So now one person could say something in one language, and Google would recognize the speech, internally translate it into Googlish, then translate it to the second language and read it aloud to another person.

Google Translate software was being licensed by most manufacturers of mobile telephones. Language skills were no longer a barrier to communications – just about any two people on the planet could talk to each other via their mobile telephones and the built-in Googlish software.

By now it was becoming common to see people sitting across from each other at airport restaurants while talking to each other via their mobile telephones. Felicita Lopez of Spain and Peng Xin Kuo of Shanghai achieved their 15 minutes of fame by getting married (wearing their telephone headsets), although they shared no common language.

The whole concept of language skills and the idea of learning a second or third language had largely fallen into disuse. Interpreters and translators had all lost their jobs and gone on to other activities.

Deiter Penderhof, a computer systems maintainer at the United Nations, fell in love with Sheela Suzuki, an aide to the Japanese ambassador. Sheela liked the attention, but was not particularly impressed by Deiter’s intelligence, claiming that he wasn’t smart enough to do much other than to run cables and switch defective screens and keyboards. Deiter glibly claimed that he was a super-hacker, and would prove it by modifying the U.N. translation system so that every sentence in every speech would be followed by the words “I love you, Sheela” in the relevant language.

June 23, 2041:
In response to a tense standoff between Chinese and Taiwanese military forces, the Chinese ambassador took to the floor at the United Nations General Assembly, and said something or other. What he actually said is unknown, but what it was translated into in 214 different languages was, “And now we will fornicate with your mothers and sisters, and then we will bomb you all back to the stone age!” When the ambassadors of other countries and the United Nations Secretary-General tried to talk to the Chinese ambassador to determine if he was crazy or what, everything people said got translated into phrases like “You dirty dogs do not belong on this planet and why do you bugger sheep in your spare time!”, “It is obvious why your wife wears a veil, it is so she doesn’t have to shave so often!”, and “The size of your manhood is laughable, but never mind, the size of a dead man’s manhood is inconsequential!”

June 24, 2041:
The Chinese bombed Taiwan, Taiwan bombed China, the USA entered the conflict on the Taiwan side, Russia entered the conflict on the Chinese side, and, well, you get the idea. It was all over rather quickly.

This story does not have a happy ending, but for the romantically inclined I can mention that Deiter Penderhof confessed to Sheela Suzuki that his hacking efforts had gone all wrong. Sheela’s eyes went wide, and she said in awe, “You did all this for me?” She was in the process of teaching Deiter how Japanese girls like it best when the U.N. building was leveled by a nuclear warhead.

3 Responses to “Googlish”

  1. First posted Feb. 22, 2010.

    I’m thinking now that the speed of development will probably be faster than what I’m predicting in this story. For example, there are already programs that read text aloud.

  2. Well, that didn’t take long! Google has already gone far beyond everything I’ve predicted in my story. Introducing “Google Translate for Animals”!

    But before you reach for your credit card to place your purchase, you should perhaps take into consideration that this was posted by Google UK on the 1st of April…

  3. Boy do I feel stupid. 😦

    A development I was predicting would arrive in 2024 is already happening. Microsoft has demonstrated a “translating telephone” technology preview.

    And this, unlike my previous comment, is not an April fools day joke.

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