Facebook acquires speech recognition and translation company to ‘connect the rest of the world’

Image Credit: John Koetsier

Facebook has acquired Mobile Technologies, a 12-year-old startup focused on speech-to-speech translation. Tom Stocky, Facebook’s director of product management, announced the news this afternoon.

Via a Facebook status update, of course.

“Although more than a billion people around the world already use Facebook every month, we are always looking for ways to help connect the rest of the world as well,” Stocky wrote. “Voice technology has become an increasingly important way for people to navigate mobile devices and the web, and this technology will help us evolve our products to match that evolution.”

jibbigoThe language divide presents the greatest human communication challenge, Mobile Technologies said at its Jibbigo product site. I guess it makes sense then that the planet’s biggest social network picked up the technology to connect the world.

Jibbigo is the world’s first speech-to-speech translator on a phone that runs both online and offline. That’s huge in a world dominated by text-to-text translation but moving towards a greater reliance on voice technologies. And it has travel, educational, and humanitarian uses all over the globe.

“Travelers around the world use Jibbigo to communicate in foreign countries, and health-care workers overcome the language challenge in humanitarian missions,” Mobile Technologies said in a statement. “Mobile Technologies also developed and deployed the first automatic, simultaneous interpretation service for lectures and deployed it in educational settings, so that ideas can transcend nations and cultures.”

It is not yet clear exactly where Facebook will use the technology, but Stocky did say that this acquisition is “an investment in our long-term product roadmap as we continue towards our company’s mission.” That would tend to suggest that Facebook is building or planning voice-based communication tools, either for posting to the social network as a text update, or for communicating live via voice, Skype-style.

Mobile Technologies will be moving “many” of its employees to Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. The app is still available on the app store, although it would not be wise to assume that it will remain so.


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