Through means that need not concern you, I have come into possession of a good quantity of Federation universal translators, along with the means to fabricate more. I have both good news and bad news about them.
The good news is that these are the same basic kind of translator we saw on Star Trek: The One with the Robot, the Werewolf, and the Hot Doctor Chick. By that I mean that they are personal translators and implanted subdermally so that they are not visual to the casual observer. The translators are controlled by an act of will on the person in which tyey are translated. Also there’s been extensive human testing done to make sure there are no deleterious side effects in implantation and use.
The bad news is that Trek exaggerated the usefulness of these devices, which, as you may recall, basically seemed to be magic on the show. For one thing , they’re not truly universal; the personal units can only translate languages in their database. (The ones in my possession are pre-programmed for English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, French, Russian, Japanese, and Italian, and have capacity for twenty to fifty more languages depending on the size of their vocabularies and complexity of their grammars.) For another thing the translations are not instaneous and do not give the illusion that the person using the devices are speaking the unknown language. Two persons both possessing translator implants will get better results if they each disable their devices output and periodically pause to while speaking.
Anyway, that’s the sitch. Any reason I shouldn’t sell these? Do you anticipate any unforeseen consequences to their availability or use?
Well, there might be economic protectionist arguments against selling these devices. Language barriers, alongside legal barriers, are great obstacles to the free flow of workers across national borders. One could argue that our legal immigration mechanisms may not be able to handle the numbers of folks who now can approximate English fluency well enough to be competitive in many jobs.
Well, suppose I promised to put the translator factory in, say, Tennessee (as would be my wont) and keep it here for a generation. (And I’m willing to do that; I’m okay with working to keep the States economically dominant as long as I still profit.) Wouldn’t it be foolish for to oppose that, given that, if I were prevented from building the factory in the United States, India would certainly be okay with letting me build there?
The issue isn’t so much with where the devices are manufactured, though. The problem is that if these things are sold abroad, it becomes much easier for non-Anglophones to find work in the United States. This isn’t a particularly nice reason to refrain from selling the things, but it’s a reason. And if you found it persuasive, the solution might be to make export illegal. (Thus, Americans could enjoy the advantages of speaking many other languages easily, whilst others would be unable to do so.)
Oh, I understood that. But here’s what I’m thinking. Someone has the devices and is willing to manufacture and sell them. Now, being all sentimental about his home town of Memphis, he prefers to put the first UT factory there to help its economy; hell, he’s even enough of a patriot to put all the factories in the United States if he can. But he’s not nuts; denied permissionto manufacture the UTs in the US for protectionist reasons, he’ll shrug, say, “See ya!” and head off to Mumbai. Either way the UTs get put on the market and non-Anglophones have a better chance of getting work in the United States. But his way helps the US economy in the process, while the protectionists’ denying him the right to build in the US does nothing but deny America the chance to get in on the ground floor.
What means this word nice? Next you’ll be wondering how many orphans were created during the human testing to get out the kinks.
That’s going to depend on how well they’re programmed. A lot of persons working as professional translators now (the best of the bunch, I should think) are going to get jobs working on the databases and tweaking the algorithms.
We tried that with the atomic bomb. We not only didn’t export them, we made talking to the wrong people about them illegal. The Soviets managed to figure out how to make one four years after we did. If it’s a really useful device, people in other countries are going to figure out how to duplicate it, and it probably won’t take very long. The process could be speeded up considerably if some American loses the device abroad. That’s something that didn’t happen with nuclear weapons.
If these things are useful, any country with decent infrastructure capabilities that wants to make them will be able to, in just a few years at most.
I’d be curious to see how languages would, in turn, evolve so that they favored native use and understanding versus outsider use. I know one of the languages in Afghanistan involves a number of gestures in addition to spoken words which I’m guessing the translator wouldn’t handle well.
I say, bring on the translators!
Are some language specific jobs (like translators and customer service people) going to lose their jobs as a result? Yes they are due to increased competition. But I would argue that everyone speaking a ‘universal’ language through these tools would help us understand cultural difference better and open up all kinds of international business opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist which will more than make up for it.
They might be a good thing for language preservation. Without the economic pressure to actually learn the majority language, which is difficult and time consuming, people might be more interested in maintaining their community languages. To me, that would be a good thing, but Evil Inc. might not approve.
I would imagine it would take much of the mystique and romance out of the world. Imagine you just trekked halfway across the world to meet some exotic culture and it turns out they didn’t sound any more profound than your average Wal-Mart shopper when their conversations run through the universal translator.
You’re too late. Microsoft monitors all internet traffic, saw this thread, announced their own version of the product, and filed numerous applications for patents and copyrights. You’ll spend millions in legal fees before you get to sell a single one. Their’s won’t sell though, because everybody will be lining up to by the new ITranslator from Apple, being announced later this afternoon for an introductory price of $499. The batteries won’t work and they’ll be selling it for $399 a few months later.