Login or Register

Sign in with Facebook

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.

Popular Sign Translator Gives Hilariously Wrong Information

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

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.

Steve Kovach/Business Insider
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.

Wilson Rothman/NBC News
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.

Steve Kovach/Business Insider
"Keep hands and arms car intimate always"?! That's illegal in almost all countries, Spanish-speaking or otherwise.

Electronic Key App Also Makes Every Smartphone a Lock Pick

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images

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.

Continue Reading Below

Cry Translator Tells You How to Soothe Your Sobbing Baby (By Guessing)

Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

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.

Vadim Ponomarenko/Photos.com
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.

Bird Song Apps Mess With Birds' Heads

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

If your average camera-phone-packing outdoor lover is nature's paparazzi, birds are nature's most annoyingly egocentric celebrities. While we wrestle with our cameras and try to get that perfect snapshot, they ignore our struggles. Unwilling to hold still for even one second, birds instead focus on their own selfish need to feed themselves while simultaneously avoiding becoming food.

Big Air Photo/Photos.com
It's almost like evolution for some reason selected those that don't like being pointed at and shot.

Well, no more. Because now, thanks to the lovely people at places like iSpiny, bird-watchers can download apps that play various types of bird song. Boasting the innocent purpose of helping you learn how to differentiate songbirds based on their calls, it didn't take long for bird lovers to figure out that these apps, combined with the high-tech "volume" feature packed by many smartphones, doubled as the perfect way to say "Hold still a minute, you feathery little bastard!" Bird-watching has never been easier.

So What's the Problem?

Well, easier doesn't always equate to better, at least according to the droves of wildlife experts who came forward to tell people to put away their goddamn phones before they kicked off some kind of ornithological apocalypse.

You see, it turns out that birds use their songs to communicate with each other (who knew?), and humans blasting that noise all willy-nilly causes no end of confusion inside their little bird brains. Consequences of the app's usage include causing birds to refuse to feed their young, relocate their nests, or just forget to nest entirely, or even get themselves eaten to death by predators when the apps lure them out from the safety of their hiding places.

So cats were behind this, like with all Internet technology.

The worst in terms of species propagation, though, is that the apps can act as a sort of anti-aphrodisiac: Birds can become unable to mate because they think the bird calls from phones are other horndogs trying to muscle in on their turf, which in turn leads to them aggressively approaching the phone bearers. That's right: The human race has discovered a misuse for a phone app so stupid that it makes birds want to physically fight us. It's like The Birds all over again, only justified.

Continue Reading Below

Skin Cancer Apps Turn Risk Assessment into Russian Roulette

Dean Bertoncelj/Photos.com

Random bodily growths can press the antsy uncertainty button of even the most stoic among us, because a cancer diagnosis is like winning the horrifying disease lottery. In an attempt to address our hazily formed fears about skin that grows bumps in the night, developers have come up with skin cancer apps to parse benign blemishes from truly Bad News.

Doctor Mole HD
The perfect app for diehard sunbathers and die-soft hypochondriacs.

There are variations on how it works, but the gist is simple and user-friendly: Photograph a questionable patch of skin with your phone, then compare your stomach-turning protuberance to instances of actual cancer. Free versions of the app, such as the University of Michigan's UMSkinCheck, might allow you to check your skinful inconsistencies against a catalog of videos and literature and perform a risk calculation. Less wallet-friendly versions like Doctor Mole HD (because even skin cancer's better in HD) analyze your exterior according to some visual algorithm and provide an automatic assessment, no critical thinking required. Either way, it's armchair oncology at its finest.

So What's the Problem?

Fearing that these apps are little more than high-tech quacksalvers, researchers decided to test the ability of four skin cancer apps to identify malignancy across 188 images of skin lesions. And to the surprise of pretty much no one, they discovered that the accuracy varied dramatically depending on which program was used.

The worst app had a measly 6.8 percent success rate, meaning you'd be much better off flipping a coin a bunch of times, or perhaps checking the horoscope for Cancer. The best performer of the bunch, at a stunning 98.1 percent accuracy, basically cheated: Rather than relying on some brilliant algorithm, the app sent images to a group of certified dermatologists who charge a fee for their services. The remaining two apps were on par with the abilities of untrained family doctors, which sounds somewhat comforting until you consider that it equates to a 30 percent error rate.

Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images
A doctor would then refer you to a specialist. The app checks you into Myrtle Beach and tweets "#SuckItSun."

Ultimately, there's a good chance people will end up delaying or totally dismissing prudent doctor visits because their fancy Magic 8 Ball app told them they were healthy. And while it's true that such apps are quick to serve up disclaimers warning consumers that apps can't replace doctors, it's pretty hard to swallow the idea that those who would actually pay for a program that claims to spot cancer would also readily dismiss its advice as unreliable. Just remember: Unless you're paying a team of doctors to look at the scabs on your junk, you're basically traversing a minefield -- only instead of shrapnel, these mines pelt you with cancer.

Andrew occasionally writes and makes ska-flavored noise that you can download. Sam is currently currying the favor of powerful and beautiful people on Twitter and Facebook.

Related Reading: Are you insane and in a relationship? Click here to learn about the app that can turn your sex life into a sheet of graph paper. Or maybe straight-up cheating is more your style: there's an app for that. If your unique brand of douchebaggery wasn't served by those apps, click here and behold your promised land.

To turn on reply notifications, click here


Load Comments