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"I went back to science fiction to try a few experiments …and my first experiment was a disaster…"
- Alfred Bester

Language Rectifier  
  The first reference to machine-translation of human languages.  

At this point in the novel, Ralph meets Alice and hits the language barrier. As always, he is prepared to succeed in this difficult circumstance thanks to science.

"I beg your pardon, but "Central" seems to have made another mistake..."

Her reply indicated that the mistake of "Central" was a little out of the ordinary, for he had been swung onto the Intercontinental Service, as he at once understood when she said, "Pardon, Monsieur, je ne comprends pas!"

He immediately turned the small shining disc of the Language Rectifier on his instrument till the pointer rested on "French."

"The service mistakes are very annoying," he heard her say in perfect English.

From Ralph 124c 41 +, by Hugo Gernsback.
Published by Modern Electrics in 1911
Additional resources -

Compare to the translatophone from My Translatophone (1901), by Frank Stockton. Compare to Translator Discs from Ringworld (1970) by Larry Niven and the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979) by Douglas Adams.

The first actual efforts at attempting machine translation of speech came in the late 1940's and early 1950's as the US government was trying to transcribe and translate Russian documents. (The agency responsible for the research later came to be known as the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency - DARPA - which also presided over the invention of TCP/IP, which brought us the Internet.)

The earliest real-world development of machine translation can be traced to conversations and correspondence between Andrew D. Booth, a British crystallographer, and Warren Weaver of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1947, and more specifically to a memorandum written by Weaver in 1949 to the Rockerfeller Foundation which included the following two sentences.

"I have a text in front of me which is written in Russian but I am going to pretend that it is really written in English and that it has been coded in some strange symbols. All I need to do is strip off the code in order to retrieve the information contained in the text."

True speech recognition was not available until 1952; Bell labs created a machine system that could distinguish the spoken numerals 0-9. By 1960, this system was upgraded to recognize - 60 words.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Ralph 124c 41 +
  More Ideas and Technology by Hugo Gernsback
  Tech news articles related to Ralph 124c 41 +
  Tech news articles related to works by Hugo Gernsback

Language Rectifier-related news articles:
  - MASTOR Provides Real-Time Speech Translation
  - Voxonic Software Lets You Sing, Speak In Any Language
  - Google Translator Phone Is Ralph 124c 41 + Approved
  - Robust Automatic Translation Of Speech DARPA's Universal Translator
  - Google Googles Translates Pictured Text
  - Google Android Language Rectifier
  - When Do I Get My Language Rectifier?
  - Google Translate for iPhone App
  - NTT DoCoMo Auto Japanese - English Translation
  - Universal Translator: Google Translate Has 51 Offline Language Packs
  - Skype's Translator Like Gernsback's Language Rectifier

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