Gear

Burn your dictionaries, Google’s new earbuds will allow you to “speak” 40 languages

Google unveiled a bunch of new goodies on Wednesday, including the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2XL.

One of the products causing quite a stir is the Pixel Buds, Google’s answer to Apple’s Air Pods.

On the surface, they are pretty similar – wireless earbuds that will liberate you from the tyranny of wires – but Google’s Pixel Buds have a killer feature that could be a real game changer – the ability to translate up to 40 languages in real time.

In the event, Google described it as “Google Translate powered by machine learning that’s like having a personal translator by your side.”

In the demo, the host demonstrating how it works with a Swedish speaking person.

It’s pretty slick in the demo, but keep in mind that was a pretty basic conversation (e.g. “Do you like these headphones?” rather than “What is your position on the post-structuralist view of semiotics?”)

Older readers will remember Altavista’s Babel Fish, a site which allowed you to translate a dozen or so languages in the late 1990s. The only problem with Babel Fish was that it was garbage and would return translations that were hilariously wrong.

Machine translation has come a long way in 20 years, but still has a way to go before it will be seamless and perfect.

In a recent Reddit thread on the Pixel Buds, users share their experiences with Google Translate. The general consensus seems to be it is good at languages with a similar base but is horrible when it comes to languages like Mandarin, Korean and Japanese since they have little in common with other languages.

Oh, and for some reason, it really struggles with Finnish and Japanese.

The top comment on that Reddit post simply says “I speak two other languages Google translate is sometimes really good, and sometimes I have no idea what the f*** it was thinking.”

As someone who is also bilingual, I concur. But no one will deny Google Translate is always improving so it’s only a matter of time before it works perfectly.

When that happens does that mean the end of all translating, interpreting and teaching jobs? Maybe. But you might score a job at Google coaching the machine that will replace you if you’re lucky.

Let’s face it, all jobs are on the endangered list once the machines get smart enough. That could lead to Universal Basic Income and a utopia in which we can put our feet up and let Artificial Intelligence (AI) run the show.

At the other extreme, the AI might decide we are kinda surplus to efficiency and do away with us. Oh well, at least it will be able to tell us we are no longer needed in a language we all understand.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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