Companies such as Google are confident the technology finally exists to make accurate internet-based real-time language translation a reality.
According to Google, new translation software will open up a vast untapped consumer market in Arabic-speaking regions. Arabic-only speakers will now be able to conduct searches in their own languages to access a vast web of English-language information and services. Technology is now also being developed to provide real-time audio translation services for smartphones.
"This is obviously important for the Arab-speaking world - approximately 8 per cent of the world speaks Arabic, but we estimate that only 1 per cent of the web is in Arabic," said Gareth Evans, a spokesman for Google. "Translation technology can open up content written in many other languages for Arabic speakers."
In practice, Google's service will enable non-English speakers to access services offering information, retailing, holidays, social networking and multiplayer gaming in real time.
"Google has created the largest translation service in the world via its simultaneous machine translation, which makes it possible to search across information in a number of languages, and deliver both the search results and web pages in a user's native language," said Mr Evans.
At the same time, Ortsbo, a division of Intertainment Media, has developed a new translation service for the online entertainment and gaming industry and already claims more than 5 million unique users a month. This allows users to chat in real time with other participants in other languages.
This is only one example of the way in which real-time translation technology can open up new markets for online services. Global gaming is already a huge market.
According to the research company Strategy Analytics, the market for what are called massive multiplayer online role-playing games reached US$5 billion (Dh18.36bn) in 2009 and it is rising fast.
The fast-growing online role-playing games markets are, however, in non-English-speaking countries and are based in regions such as Asia rather than in more developed markets such as Europe and the US.
But for non-English-speaking gamers to be able to go online and compete successfully with other players, it is vital that they are offered translation services. However, the IT industry has been promising real-time translation services for decades without delivering anything resembling the kind of multilingual voice translation devices that have long been a standard feature of science fiction such as the Star Trek films or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
But in the 1990s, the IT industry stopped trying to teach computers the rules of language in favour of developing software to allow them to calculate the rules of grammar for themselves. This technology has now been developed to a level where smartphones and other devices connected to the internet can offer simultaneous translation services in the world's major languages.
"Most commercial machine-translation systems in use today have been developed using a rule-based approach, and require a lot of work to define vocabularies and grammars," said Mr Evans.
"Our system takes a different approach; we feed the computer billions of words of text, both monolingual text in the target language, and aligned text consisting of examples of human translations between the languages. We then apply statistical learning techniques to build a translation model."
Google has also developed Android-powered mobile phones, although the service is so far only available in Spanish.
But accurate voice recognition is still notoriously difficult to achieve as a result of regional variations in accents and the use of casual speech and slang.
The road to offering simultaneous translation is littered with IT failures. Lernout & Hauspie, for example, was a Belgian-based translation software company, once valued at $10bn, that collapsed as a result of fraud committed by its founders, who were both given sentences of five years' imprisonment.
Although the IT industry has now moved on and the basic technology for simultaneous translation has been developed, even Google admits it still has some way to go before the technology is perfected.
"Machine translation isn't perfect, but for non-native speakers it offers access to a world of information that was previously unavailable," said Mr Evans.
If the IT industry can finally deliver on real-time translation, use of the internet and smartphone networks is set to mushroom across the Arabic-speaking world.