With these earplugs you’ll soon understand all the world’s languages


Artificial intelligence and speech recognition – it all sounds nice. But what can we now do with it? The startup Waverly Labs has found an answer and is working intensely on a world without language barriers. These are big plans. No question. Nevertheless one wonders once again why no one thought of this before, leaving aside the universal translator from Star Trek and Babylon fish from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

The idea that people who speak different languages can communicate with each other is as old as mankind. The Tower of Babel? Ring any bells? Now we seem to be at a point technically where dreams like this can be implemented in reality. The makers of Waverly Labs argue that their little earplugs with the beautiful name “The Pilot” can now translate four languages fluently. English, Spanish, French and Italian. More specifically: The plug whispers the translation into the ear. The app on your smartphone does the translation work.

The conversation of the future should look like this:

Until now automatic translators have had a bad reputation. Though the service from Google is quite fast and reliable. For example, here is a quote from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which has been translated into English reasonably well:

„Viele kamen allmählich zu der Überzeugung, einen großen Fehler gemacht zu haben, als sie von den Bäumen heruntergekommen waren. Und einige sagten, schon die Bäume seien ein Holzweg gewesen, die Ozeane hätte man niemals verlassen dürfen.“

„Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d made a big mistake when they were come down from the trees. And some said that even the trees had been a bad, the oceans one should never have left.“

OK. For an invitation to coffee, the new technology should be enough. But Waverly Labs plans more. We naturally want to hear what our counterpart has said. And not read it. Thus, like a conversation, the whole thing should happen fairly quickly. Otherwise there may be inconveniences like in a bad phone connection with a time lag. In order for the communication to work, however, both parties need an earplug.

Waverly Labs founder Andrew Ochoa likes to tell how he came up with the idea for his product. He went on a date with a French woman which didn’t go very well because of communication problems. A nice anecdote. Even if it’s not true. The Pilots are initially being offered by crowdfunding. Two earplugs cost 129 US dollars to start. The final selling price will be $299.

This article was originally published on Gründerszene.

Image: Waverly Labs