World flags (2)

The occasion of the launch of the Google Pixel phone heralded a new app that may change the world. 

Sometimes technology can change us. There is evidence that the use of smart phones has reduced attention spans – that’s a negative, but we also know that the Facebook generation – the millennials and generation Z – are more collaboratively minded. But last week a new app from Google may change how we perceive different people, all over the world. It may even change how we perceive ourselves.

The app works with the new Pixel phone and earplugs ¬†– Pixel Buds. It was demonstrated last week amongst all the razzmatazz of a Google product launch. The product can translate foreign languages, as they are spoken, on the fly, with the translation whispered in the user’s ear via the Pixel Buds.

Imagine how that can change the world, and destroy the barriers to cultural understanding. As well as promote international trade.

But then the app won’t just help dollars change hands, it will promote friendships across borders. Combine the tool with social media, virtual and augmented reality, and global human interaction will be supported to a level that has no precedent.

In an age of voice translation and augmented reality, maybe countries themselves will lose significance, will we define ourselves as English, American, Chinese or whatever our nationality is, or say we are citizens of humanity?

Of course the app is far from perfect, and no doubt we can look forward to years of hilarious and sometimes  dangerous translation errors.

But the point is, it will improve. Machine learning, neural networks, and now neural computing chips will transform this tool. How long before it is fluent, how long before it translates regional accents? How long before everything we hear comes via an AI filter?

According to Business Insider, professional translators don’t need to be worried. The tool may translate words, but not meaning.

Maybe, but then again machines learn, in fact they are learning in a way that is not dissimilar from the way we learn a language, by analysing lots and lots of conversations and testing people’s reactions. We do it subconsciously of course, AI will do it via big data.

In other news, it has been revealed that foreign language teachers in UK schools will be among a select few teachers who will subjected to student loan debt forgiveness. But will we need to learn a foreign language in the age that is approaching?