Real Time Foreign Language Arrives

I have always been fascinated with what’s up and coming in technology, especially when it’s something that could apply to the arts! My goal with this post is to provide you with some grist for your creative mills — when you have an idea of what’s coming down the pike in the technology world, it may inspire you, or challenge your thinking about what’s possible in the art world. This post is likely to be the first of several on this general topic over the next few months.

Let’s start with foreign language. If you’ve read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you will recall the Babel Fish, which is defined by Wikipedia as:

…small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the universe. It feeds on brain wave energy, absorbing all unconscious frequencies and then excreting telepathically a matrix formed from the conscious frequencies and nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain, the practical upshot of which is that if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.

If you’ve ever used Google translate (or seen translations on Facebook), you know that computers can do this kind of work pretty quickly. Well, this week Google announced “Pixel Buds,” which operate pretty much the same way as the Babel Fish. Here’s an article about this exciting development from MakeUseOf, a techie blog typically reserved for reporting on cutting edge consumer tech, which this undoubtedly is.

Quoting from the article:

It’s like you’ve got your own personal translator with you everywhere you go. Say you’re in Little Italy, and you want to order your pasta like a pro. All you have to do is hold down on the right earbud and say, ‘Help me speak Italian.’ As you talk, your Pixel phone’s speaker will play the translation in Italian out loud. When the waiter responds in Italian, you’ll hear the translation through your Pixel Buds.

Applying “Pixel Buds” technology to the arts seems both amazing and sacrilegious. Imagine during a classical music performance you hear a quiet voice explaining what’s happening in between movements. Alternatively, at the ballet, if you aren’t quite following The Nutcracker, you hear someone explaining what’s going on in the story. Or perhaps the most obvious application, you’re at a play in a foreign language, and it’s being translated directly to your earpiece in real time. These things may or may not ever happen, but one thing I’m sure of is that in a few years, it will be routine for people to walk around with a “smart” earbud that tells them things they want to know about the world.

Amazing? Scary? Motivating? All of the above!

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