The Gift of Technology

According to Greek mythology, it was the Titan Prometheus himself who gave mankind the gift of fire, primordial symbol of progress and technology. From his holy spark, humanity evolved into the dominant species that has ruled the Earth to this very day.

Annaud’s epic “Quest for Fire” shows us how the first primitive cavemen fought for the very tool that would propel them forward as a species, separating them from the apes they once were.

It seems in every mythos, whether it is common folklore or a more modern revisiting of man’s nature (as seen in today’s films and literature),  it is the arrival of technology that pushes humanity into the miracle of civilization.

Even Stanley Kubrick’s monkeys dancing around the perpetual monolith seem to suggest a dichotomy between mankind’s animalistic nature towards violence and the role that technology plays in that equation.

But technology is a double-edged sword: One that could be wielded for mankind’s survival as well as for its utter destruction. Yes, it sounds ominous and apocalyptic, but that’s just the way we like it.

In a previous post, we theorized about the future of translation and the way neural networks applied to machine translation might outdate the need for human resources in the translation business, initiating a clash between man and machine, at least in a metaphorical sense.

Last month, Waverly Labs, a New York-based company, presented a prototype set of earplugs capable of translating simultaneously (in almost real time) a live conversation between two people speaking different languages. So interpreters beware! If you thought you had a chance against the threat of technology rendering your oral skills obsolete, you might just have to think again. It seems you are just as vulnerable as your fellow translators are when it comes to technology breakthroughs nowadays.

Trying to understand someone who doesn’t speak your language, without the intervention of a third party, might now have become a thing of the past thanks to this new piece of technology.

These so-called “Pilot earphones” act very much like the “Babel Fish” portrayed in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, making it possible for two people who speak different languages to understand each other simultaneously.

According to Pilot’s developers, their device is supposedly the first ‘smart earpiece’ capable of translating two languages using neural net technology on an app-based interface.

And this seems to be just the beginning. Other companies are pointing their cannons towards real-time translation applications as well.

The Google Translate app can already translate what you say to your phone directly from one language to another in real-time.

Skype can now translate between callers speaking different languages, and currently caters for seven simultaneous users at a time.

The chief envisioning officer of Microsoft UK has also claimed that in the next five years, we will be able to translate to and from any language with just a smartphone in our hands.

It all seems to be suddenly escalating very quickly. But where will it stop? What are the risks for the people involved in the industry? Instead of technology helping people in everyday life, will it come down to be a matter of human capital versus technology?

As I was reading the origins behind the idea that ended up developing the Pilot Earphones, I found out the guy who came up with it did so after failing  to hit on a French girl due to the language barrier between them. It seemed funny to me at first, since it took me back to my starting argument about the way technology revolutionized our surviving skills in the first place. It’s all a matter of Darwinian behavior in the end. It’s what separates us from the rest of the monkeys: Homo habilis at its very best!  Man pursuing the very primitive urge of spreading his seed, ensuring the persistence of his species by any means possible. Thus, he produces a way of broadening communication and humanity is saved once again! A modern day survival of the fittest…

Once again, what first appears to threaten us as casting the shadow of our doom upon us turns out to be nothing but the very primal instinct that might help us survive.

Prometheus gave us the gift of fire, and we decided to burn down the world with it once.

Some people aim for greatness. Some people just want to see the world burn…

The joke’s on us, I guess. In the end, we’re nothing but a bunch of horny monkeys playing with shotguns and laser swords.

May Zeus have mercy on our souls…