At the end of its I/O presentation on Wednesday, Google pulled out a “one more thing”-type surprise. In a short video, Google showed off a pair of augmented reality glasses that have one purpose — displaying audible language translations right in front of your eyeballs. In the video, Google product manager Max Spear called the capability of this prototype “subtitles for the world,” and we see family members communicating for the first time.
Now hold on just a second. Like many people, we’ve used Google Translate before and largely think of it as a very impressive tool that happens to make a lot of embarrassing misfires. While we might trust it to get us directions to the bus, that’s nowhere near the same thing as trusting it to correctly interpret and relay our parents’ childhood stories. And hasn’t Google said it’s finally breaking down the language barrier before?
In 2017, Google marketed real-time translation as a feature of its original Pixel Buds. Our former colleague Sean O’Kane described the experience as “a laudable idea with a lamentable execution” and reported that some of the people he tried it with said it sounded like he was a five-year-old. That’s not quite what Google showed off in its video.
Also, we don’t want to brush past the fact that Google’s promising that this translation will happen inside a pair of AR glasses. Not to hit at a sore spot, but the reality of…