Babel Phone

December 21, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

It gets harder and harder to separate reality from fiction – like those stories panelists on “Wait Wait” make up for the “Bluff the Listener” segment. Or the facts and fictional products or happenings that Kurt Andersen mixed together in Turn of the Century, and readers often didn’t know which was factual and which made up. That was twelve years ago. By now, reality has caught up, and some of those fictions are now fact. But maybe we’re at a point where sci-fi sometimes has to catch up with reality.

Thirty years ago, Douglas Adams imagined the Babel fish – instant translation available to all. Now there’s this, and you don’t have to stick it in your ear.




It’s like a magic trick,* or something out of Harry Potter – if Gryffindor had ever vacationed on the Costa del Sol. But it’s real – an app for your iPhone. Five bucks. (I’m not sure how many knuts that is.)

UPDATE, Dec. 30. Even David Pogue – David F***ing Pogue! – puts Word Lens on his ten-best-ideas list and says it is “software magic.”


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*I know it isn’t really all that amazing. Translation programs have been around for a while (and how sophisticated does it have to be to read simple signs?), so has character recognition. But, at least in this ad, it still looks like magic to me.

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