May 20, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Lost In Translation No More: The In-Ear Translator Is Here

High-tech earpieces that can translate from any language to any other language have been featured in some of the most beloved science fiction stories. Now, thanks to New York-based tech startup Waverly Labs, those earpieces might soon be making their commercial debut.

Called “The Pilot,” the earpiece system will be able to translate English, Spanish, French and Italian, with some more languages on the way (for a fee, of course), including Hindi, Semitic, Arabic, and Slavic and African languages. The earpieces depend on a complimentary mobile app which allows users to change settings such as language and volume.

The creator of the earbuds claims that he got the idea while speaking to a girl who spoke only French, a language he did not speak. However, as die-hard Trekkies can confirm, so-called “universal translators” have been a mainstay in science fiction since at least 1967 and are perhaps best known in the form of the Babelfish from the Hitchhiker’s Guide series.  

Three Colors
The earbuds will be released in three colors.

The company’s website, while sparse on information, claims that the Pilot earbuds will bring about “a world without language barriers,” but just how well the earbuds will work in real world environments has yet to be seen. Waverly Labs has already issued a disclaimer concerning the difficulties in interpreting the innumerable variations of natural language:

Every language has various dialects and the earpiece is designed to translate common dialects, although thick accents could disrupt this.

The company is currently crowdfunding the earbuds and taking pre-orders for between $129 and $179, but the retail price once the earpieces have hit store shelves is expected to be somewhat higher. While similar products such as Google Translate depend on an internet connection, the Pilot earbuds will work without a data carrier.

Waverly Labs Pilot in red 1200x638
The earbuds and required mobile app

More and more new technologies like the Pilot earbuds are beginning to explore the possibilities of natural language processing, wherein computers decipher and interpret “real” language, as opposed to coding languages or pre-programmed commands. Natural language processing is closely tied with artificial intelligence systems, since any computer system that seeks to be as intelligent as humans (or more) must first be able to understand human language. While great strides are being made in developing systems that can process natural human language, there are still many hurdles to overcome before artificial intelligence systems are capable of truly understanding human languages.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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