Airpods Source: Google Images

In less than two years Apple’s AirPods will gain the ability to translate a multitude of languages into the user’s mother tongue in real time, creating the opportunity to communicate with people from around the world in any language seamlessly.

This prediction was made by James Hewes, president and CEO of FIPP, during one of the recent FIPP Insider presentations in Paris earlier this month. FIPP, the London-based network for global media, presents a series of insider briefings to international publishers around the world annually.

FIPP network members include world leading digital publishers and digital developers, helping to build market-leading international media businesses through intelligence, solutions and partnerships.

As President of FIPP, Hewes is privileged to insider conversations throughout the publishing and technology development sector. During the Paris briefing Hewes shared some of the key publishing industry trends from around the world with delegates from European publishing houses.

From computers to smartphones to earpieces

One of these “key trends”, he said, was the rise of voice, whether this was voice activated interfaces or other related products. He said the industry is seeing proof that powerful operating systems that first moved from computers to smartphones are now moving to earpieces. Apple’s AirPods are leading the way.

“Within the next 24 months you will be able to use Apple’s AirPods to have somebody talk to you in a foreign language and it will translate dynamically into English while the conversation is happening,” explained Hewes. “This will be revolutionary. Just imagine if everyone in the world can talk to each other and understand each other.”

He said the development of translation technology has been growing fast and should be seen in the light of the rapid growth of voice interfaces. “If you look at the installed Amazon Echo devices and the number of skills developed to ‘live’ on the devices, they are growing at an exponential rate.”

Translating earpieces: ‘Society changing tech’

The Echo smart speaker, he pointed out, was the most popular Christmas present in the UK last year. Simultaneously, the publishing industry is also seeing an increased number of people being tasked with developing skills for voice activated devices.

If you add to this the reality that AI technology will soon increase voice activated devices’ ability to seamlessly translate content, technology that will also move to earpieces such as Apple’s AirPods, “this would be the next society changing tech,” said Hewes.

The idea of an earpiece that can translate any language seamlessly was first mooted in the cult science-fiction book and BBC TV-series ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ written by British author Douglas Adams in the late 1970s. In the first of four books (he famously called it a “trilogy”), Adams introduces the ‘Babel fish’: a small, bright yellow fish, which can be placed in someone’s ear in order for them to be able to hear any language in the galaxy translated into their first language.

Google has been working for some years trying to achieve such a workable earpiece with various levels of success. In 2017 the search engine giant introduced Pixel ear-buds that Google suggested would be capable of real-time translation of conversations in around 40 different languages – including Chinese. Due to technical issues and arduous usage, these buds never received popular traction.

The question now stands if Apple can make good on their AirPod translation development, something that Hewes said, because of the rise of AI, he does not doubt at all.