I’ll admit up-front I’m cheating. I’m writing this from the comfort of my home office without having to go anywhere near the CES madness (I was there last year; 170,000 people packed into the center of Las Vegas, block-wrapping lines to get taxis, never again). I’m relying instead on the Wired preview of the first day and what they thought was cool.
One thing in particular caught my attention – the ili (that’s eye-el-eye) wearable translator. This is a little gadget, a little like the old iPod gumstick, that you wear around your neck. You push a button and talk; ili translates what you are saying into English, Chinese or Japanese (with more languages planned). And the person you are speaking with can use ili to talk back to you and will translate back to your native language. You speak into one side and what you say is translated out through a speaker on the other side.
If you ever read Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, you should immediately see where I’m going with this. It’s the Babel fish – a primitive, bulky (and inanimate) Babel fish to be sure, but the same objective and within striking distance of the same size. For those unfortunate souls who haven’t read the book (or seen the movie), the Babel fish is a universal translator. You stuff it in your ear, then you can understand anything spoken to you in any language and you can respond in the same language. Such is the power of science fiction to shape science reality.
The ili translator will fall short of this ideal goal in many ways I’m sure – limited vocabulary, accuracy of voice recognition, etc, etc. But these are details to be ironed out. What’s more important is that they have started along the path. This will be a truly useful wearable – maybe today, maybe after some evolution. Kudos to the the Japanese founders for launching this product and winning CES Innovation of the Year awards both this year and last year. Good to see great tech coming out of Japan again.
One more thing – this device doesn’t need the Internet to work. This is a personal hobby-horse of mine. Connecting to the Internet is great if it adds significant value to a product but it doesn’t have to be the defining requirement of new personal and other electronic applications. The IoT sometimes seems to blinker us to great “Things” because we can’t figure out how the Internet plays in the idea. Revelation – it doesn’t have to. “T”s can have high value on their own. Add the “Io” only if it makes sense.Share this post via: