Interest is growing in a new device which, when inserted in the ear, would offer an instant translation of whatever’s being communicated to you in a foreign tongue – handy if you’re in a cab and itching to get somewhere, though perhaps less so in a work context (pretty much everyone speaks English these days). In turn, your reply will be translated back to the person you’re conversing with, also wearing the earpiece.
Waverley Lab’s Pilot, launched in Barcelona at the end of the month, will reportedly be able to translate French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese initially, and supposedly more “complex” languages such as Mandarin, Russian or Arabic later – so you may want to think twice about acquiring one just yet before jetting off to an Asian destination.
Pilot will work through an app, which means you will have to carry a smartphone too (which begs the question – why bother with an earpiece?). And you might have to be online – seldom straightforward when travelling overseas.
In addition, there are certain other hurdles to overcome, like body language / facial expressions, and any device will have to be worn or shared by more than one party – conversation is two-way, after all.
Nonetheless, the potential is huge, especially with AI making further advances. I myself have experienced more than one tricky situation when travelling, owing to my poor linguistic abilities (in China especially). Any solution that allows us to understand each better, however imperfect, is progress.