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I want my Universal Translator.
I had big plans to brush up on my restaurant Italian before leaving for the trip back in September; big plans that ran head first into reality.
I did nothing.
To be honest, it didn’t really matter. Most people you deal with in the metro centres of Europe speak English betterer than we do. The only time I really needed translation services was when I had to email the hotel in Saigon to let them know we’d be a day late checking in. Oh, and also once in Lyon trying to work out how to use the washing machine in the AirBnB.
For that sort of job, ChatGPT was super useful. I just wrote what I needed to say and ol’ Chatty translated it pretty much perfectly.
It wasn’t much use on the street, however. Or in cabs and bars. For that live, real time translation in your ear, you really do need Star Trek-level technology. I’d assume it was a ways off in the distant future, but apparently not, according to Bloomsburg, which just reported on a bunch heavy hitters and tiny start-ups all racing to put Lt. Uhura out of a job before she’s even born.
One logical candidate to offer such a translator is Alphabet Inc.’s Google, whose Translate service already handles more than 130 languages. Last year, Google showed a video featuring eyeglasses that could display subtitled translations in real time. (The actual glasses have yet to arrive.) There’s also OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, which users have been employing to translate multiparagraph passages. Spotify Technology SA recently disclosed plans to use OpenAI’s tech to translate popular podcasts into other languages, read by AI-rendered clones of their popular hosts’ voices.
A less prominent candidate, but one that industry insiders have been tracking for years, is the 700-person startup DeepL SE in Cologne, Germany. This January it raised funds at a €1 billion ($1.1 billion) valuation. In December the company plans to introduce its first voice interpreter, a feature that automatically captures a speaker’s words, then translates and transcribes them into text in another language. Eventually, DeepL plans to bring this feature to its own app, as well as to other services such as Zoom. Jarek Kutylowski, its founder and chief executive officer, says he imagines such a translator living “within each and every business meeting,” making language barriers irrelevant.