Translation Earpiece on Horizon

A relic from the future is due out this year: the wearable translator. Startup Waverly Labs shares a YouTube video, “A World Without Language Barriers,” to introduce their product. They have raised over $4 million through Indiegogo for development of the device, named the Pilot. The video should intrigue anyone who follows machine translation. A Waverly press release specifies:

“Pilot uses the latest technologies in speech recognition, machine translation and wearable technology to allow users to converse without language barriers. Pilot includes a second earpiece for wireless music streaming and a mobile app, which toggles between languages.”

This could also be valuable for use with foreign-language videos and other media, unlocking vast stores of knowledge for many. My question—Will the translation quality actually exceed today’s imperfect machine translation? If not, users will have to be on alert for crossed wires; the earpiece may lead one to forget errors may occur.

Early funding is now closed, but the company has moved pre-orders to its website. Each unit costs $249, and they expect to deliver in “late summer 2017.” Oh, and they come in black, white, or red. Waverly Labs was founded in 2013, and is based in New York City.

Cynthia Murrell, February 3, 2017

Why Alexa Instead of Alex

Stereotypes inhabit comfort zones. Virtual assistants tend to be “female” in name and voice because, basically, people are more comfortable telling women what to do. Ramona Pringle at CBC News examines the trend in “Digital Sexism: Why Are All Virtual Assistants Women?

“Companies cite all sorts of research in their decision to make bots female. …  male voices are perceived as being more authoritative, whereas female voices are understood to be more helpful and supportive. These preconceptions carry over into synthetic voices, which essentially means that even computers are gender stereotyped.”

This practice reinforces the image of the subservient female every time a virtual assistant is used. The time to make a conscious decision to flout this convention is now.

Cynthia Murrell, January 19, 2017

Amazon Pulls Ahead in Ecommerce

Business Insider reports, “Amazon Is Crushing Walmart, eBay, and Target in the Growing Mobile Shopping Space.” Eugene Kim writes:

“According to a new note published by Oppenheimer this week, Amazon’s lead in the mobile shopping space is growing by a wide margin, tripling the number of US unique visitors to its mobile app over the past two years. Meanwhile, its biggest competitors like Walmart, eBay, and Target saw almost no growth in the same time.”

Amazon’s mobile app has attracted half our nation’s online shoppers. This is especially important as shopping continues its shift from PCs to mobile devices. Business insider forecasts that mobile sales will reach 45% of the US ecommerce market by 2020.

Cynthia Murrell, January 19, 2017