Insights October 28, 2020

The future is here – in the form of live translation hearables

Living Word
By Living Word

What might have sounded like a crazy dream just a couple of years ago has become increasingly accessible. Live translation hearables are here to stay. But do they work? And will we actually get ear implants with built-in translation functionality in the future, as some people predict?

Over the last few years, we’ve been introduced to many new, shiny hearables supposed to break down language barriers and help with translating content right inside our ears. Examples include Google’s Pixel Buds and Waverly Labs’ Pilot, among others. But do they actually work?

A great start

It seems that all of the hearables on the market today are a great step towards something bigger. Of course, the existing products have some limitations, such as understanding emotional context. They are also still very dependent on smartphone hardware as well as the cloud, and many testers dislike the lag that comes with this. Moreover, it’s been suggested that the products underperform when it comes to understanding individual voices, especially when it’s noisy.

While all of these points are valid, it should be noted that these hearables already offer some great benefits for millions of travellers and businesses that use hearables for simpler translation tasks, such as finding directions or ordering at a restaurant. To properly succeed in the future, however, beyond basic needs, many experts argue that the success of hearables lies in machine algorithm learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and the help of the hearing aid industry. We might only be scratching the surface of the many possibilities hearables can offer, but truly functional devices are well within our reach.

But what about ear implants?

While the translation industry is busy exploring and advancing the technologies surrounding innovative hearables, there is another futuristic idea that keeps cropping up when looking into this interesting topic, namely ear implants. Some innovative hearing aids that are inserted into the ear canal, made for people with hearing loss, can already use AI to filter noise, track health and translate many languages almost instantaneously, but there are those who want to take things one step further than that. Zoltan Istvan, for instance, a prominent journalist and big believer in transhumanism, believes in the idea of universal ear implants to make humans, well – better humans.

Luckily, this crazy idea is still very far from normalised. While existing hearables and innovative technological advances point towards a promising future in which we might find communicating across languages very simple indeed, today’s reality is still quite primitive, and we simply couldn’t cope without the expertise and understanding of human translators.