“Language barrier” may be a phrase lost in translation to the next generation.
By 2025, when someone speaks to you in a foreign language, an earpiece will be able instantly to translate their words into your native language, Hillary Clinton’s former innovation advisor Alec Ross has written in The Wall Street Journal.
Monotonous computer voices will be consigned to the past, too. The voice of your interlocutor – its wavelength, frequency and other unique properties – will be recreated by the cloud software supporting your earpiece, as advances in bioacoustic engineering make voice replication possible.
The software of the 2020s will be able to handle more than Google’s Translate’s mere two-way translation.
“You could host a dinner party with eight people at the table speaking eight different languages, and the voice in your ear will always be whispering the one language you want to hear”.
The earpieces won’t necessarily spell the end of foreign language learning, however.
“I can’t imagine a time when we don’t value the ability to communicate in languages other than our own”, Mr. Ross told The Independent. “But I can’t help but think that this will have some kind of impact on the future of foreign language learning. Exactly what, I don’t know.”
The next generation may “be able to understand anything that is spoken to them”.
But “real communication” entails “the nuance that comes with engaging directly without a translator or a piece of hardware”.
While the globalization of the last few decades has depended on English as a common language, such translation potential means billions of the world’s non-English speakers could enter markets and networks previously inaccessible.
The machine learning underlying the translation technology is developed by processing billions of translations a day. As computing power increases, “machines will grow exponentially more accurate and be able to parse the smallest detail”.
“More data, more computing power, and better software….will fill in the communication gaps in areas including pronunciation and interpreting a spoken response”.