It is not perfect – background noise and regional accents can mean it gets muddled, and it often mistranslates ambiguous terms – but as it depends on examples to learn, Google says that the quality should improve.
However, there is one thing that currently holds this back from being a truly universal, mobile Babel Fish: it needs an internet connection to work, as even the most powerful smartphones cannot hold and process all of the necessary data to translate effectively.
"The language models we have developed are so big that they are stored on many different computers and involve many, many gigabytes of tables," explains Dr Och.
Even if the computing power of smartphones continues its onward march, it will be many years before the phone in your pocket can work as a Babel Fish by itself.
Dr Och, perhaps sensibly, will not be drawn on if and when a true Babel Fish-like device may be built. However, he says, there may be unforeseen consequences if they are successful.
“The end effect could be that everyone gets to know, understand and like each other better, and I get the Nobel Prize. But don't forget that in Douglas Adams' book, people who used the Babel Fish ended up understanding how much they hated each other."