Tech for Change: New gadgets at CES 2021 finally bridge the language barrier

Tech has turned us all into travelers these days: Google Maps takes us anywhere in the world, while virtual meetings via Zoom and Teams let us interact with anyone, anywhere. But language remains a challenging topic, one tech is actively tackling.

The ability to speak any language, anywhere, at any time — on a hike through the mountains, on a vacation in a foreign country, on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean — would be transformative, something we call Tech for Change. And real-time translation is here in several ways today, thanks to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud processing. That capability is on display in several devices at CES 2021.

Gadgets from Google and Samsung offer real-time translation today — heck, you can do it on any Android phone these days. One company, weirdly called Timekettle, takes it a step further, promising offline translation that works even when you’re not connected to the cloud. But how much further can innovative companies take this technology?

At CES last year, Waverley Labs was named an Innovation Awards Honoree for Ambassador Interpreter, a shareable over-the-ear interpretation tool that provides consumers with highly accurate and natural translations in 20 languages and 42 dialects. We first wrote about the gadget in 2016, and in 2021, it’s finally coming on the market, after years of development and refinement. But this technology still has a ways to go, and the continued leaps being made in the realm of natural language processing and A.I. promise to continue to push the envelope. After all, you know Alexa isn’t human, right? Can that be improved?

We’re looking forward to seeing what comes from the minds of Pocketalk as well, which has a pocket-sized device on the market already that translates 74 different languages and retails for $299. But you can get deep discounts on the company’s technology; the original Pocketalk Classic is on sale for just $99 bucks at Amazon, for example. The company is exhibiting at CES 2021 … is a new version in the works?

Not all translation devices are devices, of course. As with anything in life, you can find an app for that these days. On display at the show will be Kotozna, a Japanese app for language translation. The founders of the company note that tourists often struggle with the enormous volume of signs, storefronts, products, menus, and more in Japan that have not been translated. Kotozna’s translation tools aim to solve that issue.

AT CES 2021, Fluent.ai aims to take it to the next level, thanks to — you guessed it — artificial intelligence and machine learning. Fluent says it has developed highly accurate and intuitive speech understanding that can run fully offline, which is useful both for world travelers and anyone worried about who’s listening in on the cloud. The company says it has a patented, “speech-to-intent approach” with multilingual capabilities.

Meanwhile, there are tools that don’t simply cut through the language barrier but eliminate it, by training you to speak them. Take Glossika, which has an adaptive learning algorithm to help you dominate a new language faster and more fluently. With a database of sentences by native speakers to help you with nuance and word-lists to study to ensure you retain phrases and words, you’ll habla Español in no time.

Not to be outdone, Amazon rolled out Live Translation in late December, a new Alexa feature that assists with conversations between individuals who speak two different languages. In other words, the language barrier is being shattered as we speak. ¡Pronto, todas hablarán español!

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