At least two groups are making progress.
New technology that allows computers to recognise any language without pre-learning stands to revolutionise automatic speech recognition.
...Professor Torbjørn Svendsen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and fellow research colleagues have been testing an innovative approach to creating next-generation speech recognition technology.
The next step for the Norwegian researchers is to develop a language-independent module for use in designing competitive speech recognition products.
According to Technology Review, a Microsoft researcher is close to creating a real one. “In a demonstration at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, campus on Tuesday, Microsoft research scientist Frank Soong showed how his software could read out text in Spanish using the voice of his boss, Rick Rashid, who leads Microsoft’s research efforts,” they reported. “In a second demonstration, Soong used his software to grant Craig Mundie, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, the ability to speak Mandarin.”
The website has sound files on Soong’s demonstration and they’re pretty impressive. “In English, a synthetic version of Mundie’s voice welcomed the audience to an open day held by Microsoft Research, concluding, ‘With the help of this system, now I can speak Mandarin.’ The phrase was repeated in Mandarin Chinese, in what was still recognizably Mundie’s voice,” wrote TR.
Soon has been developing the universal translator technology with fellow colleagues from Microsoft Research Asia...
The system can read text in an individuals own voice with about an hour of training, similar to dictation software years ago. As of right now, the technology can translate between any pair of 26 languages.
“The word is just one part of what a person is saying,” says Shrikanth Narayanan, ”Preserving voice, preserving intonation, those things matter, and this project clearly knows that. Our systems need to capture the expression a person is trying to convey, who they are, and how they’re saying it.”
Microsoft’s universal translator (they aren’t actually calling it that) is still being perfected so there’s no date yet as to when it would be available for public consumption.
With Google Translate as available and facile as it is, and with voice and speech recognition a regular feature on many smart phones, I suppose it's not too surprising to see the integration of those two technologies plus some additional tweaks give rise to one of Star Trek's favorite toys. I would be concerned about mistranslation and pattern recognition failures (which I see happen here and there), but this is yet one more powerful technology which Star Trek suggested and which has come to fruition two centuries earlier than that show predicted.
The Transporter, however, is liable to be a very different matter!
Photons don't count, right?
Photons are ONE thing. PROTONS are quite another ... as is the whole business of E=MC2. Transporting ANYTHING, never mind a human, you're dealing with a whole lot of matter, which means ALL that matter has to be converted to one HELL of a lot of energy, moved in a coherent fashion to some other location, then PRECISELY reassembled, right down to the last atom.
Lawrence Krauss dealt with this issue in his book, The Physics of Star Trek. A fun read and well worth your time.
That would be so awesome!