Coming Soon: In-Ear Translational Devices
Much of my current China trip has been spent visiting my wife’s family as we prepare for the Sunday wedding of her 25-year-old niece. Most of her family does not speak English and most of my family (myself included) does not speak Chinese, so communication has sometimes been challenging. But my wife has served as an energetic / enthusiastic translator. Plus good food (and generous servings of alcohol) have certainly helped ease the conversational process.
However, in the near future, such communication problems could become obsolete. An in-ear device is scheduled to hit the market next spring that will give users real-time translational capabilities. Priced at $129, the Pilot System from Waverly Labs allows for two people to talk in their native tongue without interruption — what the other person hears is immediately rendered (via the intermediary of a smartphone) from the unfamiliar language into their language of choice.
As with most new releases, the initial release of this technology will likely be a bit buggy. Perhaps the translational software won’t quite be conversationally correct. Perhaps the audio quality won’t be as true as it should be. Perhaps the in-ear unit itself will be a bit too bulky and cumbersome. Perhaps the battery life will be limited. But, one can see that second and third versions of this technology from Waverly (and other companies that will certainly develop similar gadgets) could quickly solve these bugs. It is not unreasonable to think that a few years down the line, such augmented-humanity innovations will radically improve our ability to communicate with different people, different nations and different cultures — while likewise fundamentally disrupting the traditional ways that we have tried to learn new languages.
In their second or third generation, devices like these will also have more language functionality (the first version of the Pilot System can only understand French, Spanish, Italian, and English). When Chinese translation software is eventually added to the portfolio, I look forward to finally having an extended conversation with my in-laws. Until then, I’ll try to follow the path of more disciplined students and make more time for my daily Mandarin lessons.