Technology is a wondrous thing. Look at smartphones with all their fancy apps, for example: We tend to take them for granted, but Doc Brown would piss himself with excitement upon seeing how they can make our lives easier, make us more efficient ... even help us advance as a society. Even more impressive, though, is how they can go horribly wrong.
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Word Lens has been widely advertised as the future of translation software ... today. According to the video demonstration, the app is a real-time translation miracle, the ocular equivalent of the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
With Word Lens, understanding something written in a foreign language is as simple as focusing your smartphone's camera on it, then the app instantly translates the words -- in the very same font, even! Something like this is a win-win for the consumer: You never have to bother with gaining a rudimentary understanding of a foreign language, and you get to be the pretentious wad of a tourist who holds his smartphone up to literally everything in his path!
So What's the Problem?
Just under the surface, you'll find that the problems with this app are many, and that they range from comical broken English to misinforming you on the details of traffic laws.
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Costa Rica apparently bans the fox trot.
For context, the app author admits that he didn't consult anyone fluent in Spanish while creating the app or designing the demonstration video, which was closing on 5 million views at the time of this writing.
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He'd have spent more time with Spanish speakers if he'd known about this "pot area."
The biggest problem with the app (other than the obvious one of not having anyone involved with it actually speak the language the app claims to translate) is that it attempts to translate individual words instead of phrases in context. Anyone who's ever used Bing to translate something knows that translating word by word is good for a laugh at best and that it shouldn't be used to inform you about important things like safety regulations, medicine labels, or all the food you're going to be eating while on vacation -- otherwise known as the precise types of things the developers advertise Word Lens as being perfect for.
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"Keep hands and arms car intimate always"?! That's illegal in almost all countries, Spanish-speaking or otherwise.
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Opening doors is pretty difficult, when you think about it. There's all that complicated business of digging in your pockets to find a key, aiming said key just perfectly to insert it into a tiny hole, and then fiddling with whatever that knobular mechanism on your door is called. Well, upstart company KISI plans to eliminate all that hassle via the magic of smartphone technology.
But the knobs stay, for style, so Barrow Street can remain classy.
The KISI digital key app relies on an electronic interface between your phone and the doors that keep you and your loved ones safe at night, eliminating the need for old-fashioned keys. If someone wants to enter your home while you're away, you just whip out your phone and activate the app. As KISI co-founder Maximilian Schuetz boasted to the BBC, "You can be in Bermuda and give someone access in New York." Additionally, the software allows you to give friends or family access via their own smartphones, presumably to avoid the major inconvenience of announcing their arrival or requesting permission to enter.
So What's the Problem?
Let's just ignore the fact that people likely to lose their keys -- the primary means of gaining entry to their home or workplace -- might also be just as likely to misplace their talkbox. Actually, no, let's not ignore that. People are literally being asked to pay hundreds of dollars to solve a problem that could just as easily be solved with one of those biker key chains that clip onto your belt loop.
And chains jingle, so you could delete at least three of your percussion apps.
But looking beyond that, consider the fact that this whole thing is premised on remotely opening your door while you're not in a position to verify who's actually standing in front of it. And since the app can enable other smartphone users to unlock your doors, it's not only you, but any friend, colleague, or cleaning person with clearance who can unlock your door from virtually anywhere. Planning on having your mom feed the cat while you're away? Think about how long it took her to learn to send you an intelligible text once she finally decided to reluctantly trade in her flip phone. Now, do you really trust her to have your digital door unlocker bopping around inside that big-ass purse of hers?
Add in the fact that smartphones are becoming the Grade A prime target for hackers and the foreboding really begins to set in. Given the choice between sticking with an outdated technology that's served the human race just fine for a hundred and some odd years and giving some Nigerian prince unimpeded access to our front doors, we'll stick with the outdated technology, thank you very much. Anyway, there's really no need to give our doors a techno-upgrade until science can perfect that Star Trek whooshy noise.
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Becoming a new parent is tough. It's like being thrust into a locked room with a tiny version of yourself that depends on you for every damn thing, and the only language Tiny You speaks is scream. Oh God, the baby's crying again! Is he hungry? Did he just drop a toxic load in his diaper? Did he swallow my car keys? How the hell are you supposed to know? All crying sounds the same.
Yeah, swallowed the keys. Maybe you should have used the unlocker app after all.
Well, that's where the wonder of the modern smartphone steps in to ease your parenting woes. The Cry Translator app boasts that after analyzing just 10 short seconds of recorded crying, it can tell you exactly what your baby wants or needs. You've found the equivalent of a DRM hack for child rearing!
So What's the Problem?
If the one-star rating on iTunes isn't enough to tip you off, the fact that all of the so-called reviews of the product by reputable tech sources are just parroting the developer's product announcement might. While everyone's quite keen on announcing that the app exists, no one's claiming that it actually works -- except for the very trustworthy-sounding Dr. Antonio Portugal Ramirez, whose clinical pediatric research determined that the app's suggestions are 96 percent accurate ... and who also just so happens to be the leader of the app's development.
Cursos de Sanidad
"I don't know who could have come up with such a brilliant translator, but he sure sounds handsome."
Real reviews of the app report that recording the same cry twice often results in completely different results, or that the app encourages users to overfeed their babies or change their diapers at WALL-E-apocalypse-inducing rates. So at worst the thing is giving outright incorrect parenting advice; at best it's using your iPhone as an unnecessary middleman for the natural instincts/guesswork evolution blessed you with. So we'd recommend just following the old "try everything until something works" method that worked for our parents and using the five bucks that you might've blown on Cry Translator to instead download that premium fart app you've been eyeing -- because fart is the one language scientifically proven to be 100 percent effective at cheering up your kid.