NEW YORK — Forget phrase books or even Google Translate. New translation devices are getting closer to replicating the fantasy of the Babel fish, which in the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” sits in one’s ear and instantly translates any foreign language into the user’s own.
The WT2 Plus Ear to Ear AI Translator Earbuds from Timekettle are already available, while the over-the-ear “Ambassador” from Wavery Labs is scheduled for release this year. Both brands are wireless, and come with two earpieces that must be synced to a single smartphone connected to Wi-Fi or cellular data.
These devices “bring us a bit closer to being able to travel to places in the world where people speak different languages and communicate smoothly with those who are living there,” said Dr Graham Neubig, an assistant professor at the Language Technologies Institute of Carnegie Mellon University and an expert in machine learning and natural language processing.
Whether the technology is in the ear, hand-held or in an app, speech-to-speech translation has mostly occurred in the same three-step process since 2016, when neural networks were assigned to the task. First, automatic speech-recognition software transcribes the spoken words into text. Next, the text is converted using neural machine translation into the text of the other language, and finally text-to-speech voice modulation articulates the other language.