It used to be Babel, but then Google Translate appeared and everyone started using it, regardless of the fact that what this tool often gave you was text that nobody could quite understand. And now it appears that tech companies are pouring money into developing Instant Translators. But why are they doing this?
AI language assistants are keen to help us all communicate in any language it seems and it does have an attraction for many people from diverse backgrounds. The race is on for translation in real time and Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are all working on it and it is rumoured that Alexa will soon be able to provide real time translations and compete with Google Assistant. China also has a budding translator in Xiaomi’s Xiao AI.
All this is only possible because rapid advances in software can achieve speech recognition, speech synthesis, neural networks, and machine translation; all f which are necessary for real-time translation.
It makes sense that instant translators are only beginning to mature now, because of the technological advances. But what’s still not clear: why did companies start pouring money into them in the first place, and who will benefit from them?
The answer lies in the way the world is changing. Worldwide, there are now 250 million migrants — people who reside outside of their birth country — according to a recent Pew Research Study. Plus, more than 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. By the middle of this century, all of these migrants stand to benefit from instant translation technology. This applies to other countries in Europe and to Canada.
Refugees will benefit even more. Some 1.2 million people will be forcibly displaced from their homes in 2018 alone, according to the UN Refugee Agency and an inexpensive instant translation tool could help meet these people’s basic needs.
Ultimately, though, instant translators will help everyone, no matter their linguistic aptitude, and as we travel, language barriers won’t hold us back. So, perhaps there is much to be gained by the investment in AI instant translators.