While most people awaiting the arrival of “The Future” tend to focus on the jetpack or the hoverboard as an indicator that we’re finally living in a new age of technological wonder, some devices that have been promised us by Star Trek and similar sci-fi stories are inherently more useful.
Nobody really needs a skateboard that doesn’t have wheels, but equipment that can instant ly translate various different languages, effectively ending the communication barrier that exists between monolinguists around the world? That’s actually something helpful, useful, and culturally revolutionary.
As automated translation services have been improving rapidly over the past few years, many different organizations have been looking for ways to make the Universal Translator effective, unobtrusive, and easy to use. With the release of the Pixel Buds, Google thinks the formula has been cracked, and is promoting the glorified headphones as the answer to centuries of linguistic miscommunication.
The Pixel Buds feature a lot of bells and whistles that aren’t present on standard headphones, such as touch controls that allow users to tap their ear to start and stop music, rather than fumbling around in their pockets in order to press a touch screen (or stoop to use a lower-tech hands free button that’s present on most modern phone headphones).
The most interesting feature, though, is that Pixel Buds, when connected to the new Pixel 2 phone, will be able to tap into the phone’s AI virtual assistant to make use of Google Translate, allowing for seamless translation of over forty languages that can hear a person’s speech, then play it in a different language in the person’s ears. This technology works similarly to the AI translation service that Facebook now employs, with deep learning opening the way for more complex and nuanced translation of texts that don’t sound like gibberish once a computer is finished with them.
It’s a device that’ll make a lot of interactions between people far simpler, and will hopefully make a big difference in the way we communicate across cultural boundaries. Soon the idea of not being able to speak to someone of a foreign language will seem trivial and archaic, although this doesn’t come without some new dangers.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, comedy writer Douglas Adams posits that in his fictional universe, this ease of translation, in “effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation”.
Maybe it won’t be all that much fun to know what someone else from a foreign country really wants to say to us. Perhaps professional interpreters and translators have been playing a dangerous peacekeeping game for centuries that the majority of the human race has been oblivious about.
Either way, no matter how great it’ll be to instantaneously translate other human languages into English, this technology is useless until it also lets us know what dogs are saying. Especially since they already understand us just fine as it is.
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