122. Simultaneous ear fitted translators

Science fiction books have frequently featured gadgets which would translate different languages in real time. This was a cool idea (the weirdest would most likely be the Babel fish you insert in your ear in Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy’). Today, it is no longer an idea, and the technology is already available. It combines voice recognition and text translation and it is deployed through several hardware set ups, typically earpieces with a mic. It does not work perfectly yet, as anyone who uses Google Translate will imagine, but it is improving all the time. Our first reaction, when reading about it, is to imagine how helpful it would be on holidays, or even business meetings. But what I am really interested in is seeing whether it will foster understanding between cultures by allowing us to go directly to the source without mediation, to discuss politics, economy, etc. without language barriers. How much more informative would an unmediated Putin or Qi Jinping be?

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