This morning, my local NPR affiliate, WAMU, quoted the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. That in itself is exciting news. But the reason they made the Hitchhiker’s Guide reference was to talk about a commitment Panasonic made for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The idea is to not even have to pull up an app on the phone a la Google Translate. This would allow the athletes to be more independent.
I believe this will happen in time for the Olympics. Last year, Panasonic released the prototype for a megaphone that translates what you are saying as you go. So it doesn’t appear we are too far off.
The translation technology the device uses is reminiscent of Google Translate, with whatever is said into the megaphone then repeated in the three other languages by a computerized voice. Seeing as the device looks like someone fused a tablet to the top of a Panasonic megaphone, the software running the translation process can’t be too far removed from the one Google runs.
Technology continues to amaze me more and more. When I travel abroad, I’m able to use Google Translate as a guide. For a while, my data plan was my only limitation, but now, even Google Translate is avaliable offline.
In addition to being a cool feature at the Olympics, this tool will be able to unlock doors for people (some day) who cannot afford a translator or guide. I doubt it will be immediately affordable but at some point, it will become affordable (a la cheap cell phones or Chromebooks).
But getting back to the babelfish. The babelfish showed up in Hitchhiker’s Guide and honestly never seemed realistic in my lifetime.
“The Babel fish,” said The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quietly, “is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.
It was entirely sci-fi when I read it. Not so much, anymore!