Hands-on with the Ambassador Interpreter by Waverly Labs (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

With the advancement of artificial intelligence, many have predicted that translation would be the first occupation to be fully automated. As machine learning continues to develop, this prediction does seem like an inevitability in the near future.

Looking at 2021 however, does it look like A.I. is ready to take over human translators yet? I think all of us would agree the answer is a firm NO, at least not yet. Being someone who frequently uses major translators including Google Translate, Bing Translator, Naver's Papago Translate or Baidu Translate, I can say it's still a hit-or-miss process, especially when encountering nuanced phrases or professional/specialized terms.

Be that as it may, it doesn't mean we can't improve on how we implement the translation process beyond taking turns to speak into a mobile phone, and that's what the Ambassador Interpreter is about. It promises to be a device that makes the workflow of A.I. translation smoother, more elegant. How does it play out in real life? Let's dive in to find out.

Over-ear design makes the Ambassador Interpreter easy to sterilize before changing hands (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Over-ear Design Suits the Traveling Entrepreneur

Translation earphones are not new. There have been many attempts, the most notable one for me was the Google Pixel Buds that tried to make conversation interpretation a main feature. However, what's common about all these attempts is that the translators were always an in-ear design. This kind of design is undoubtedly more compact, however, is less than ideal when it comes to hygiene - especially if you need to have conversations with different strangers.

The Ambassador Interpreter is the first translation device that I have seen that uses an over-ear design. Similar to the legendary headphone - Koss KSC75, the Ambassador Interpreter uses an ear hook that loops around the ear, keeping the device over the ear - sans the foam cover. This makes it easy to sterilize if desired when passing the device from one person to another.

If you're a traveling entrepreneur and need to speak to many people, a device that is made to switch between people like Ambassador Interpreter would be a more considerate option than competing earbud style interpreters.

L-R: Device Page shows Three Modes, Japanese to English, Korean to English, Compared with Google Translate (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Intuitive Translation Modes: Lecture, Converse, Listen

Instead of merely having a speak button that gets the interpreting device listening, then waiting for the translation, the Ambassador Interpreter provides three modes of interpreting for three different scenarios: Lecture, Converse and Listen.

Lecture

Lecture Mode is designed for lecturers who wish to give a talk in a foreign language. The device will listen to a sentence from you, then voice out the translation via the app on the phone - which can be connected to a loudspeaker if addressing a crowd. The concept is good and the scenario is highly plausible. However in practical use, I would only use this system as a last resort mainly because of the hit-and-miss state of translation softwares at present. It's one thing to have your words translated into foreign gibberish when conversing with another person, but to a whole room of people may have much more serious implications.

Converse

Converse Mode makes use of the multi-device connectivity that the Ambassador Interpreter has, and the push to speak functionality on each ear piece. When two people are wearing the device, they can each speak to each other just like a walkie-talkie conversation, with the faceplate of the earphone as the talk button. Since I only have two devices, I was only able to test this between two people, but I can imagine how useful having 4 devices would be, enabling a 4-way conversation.

Listen

Finally there's the Listen Mode, and this mode simply opens up and keeps listening for the language that you set it to, and continuously translates it to the language you specify. It's like Google Assistant or SIRI, but is programmed to only focus on translating what it hears.

These listening modes I would say are the best features of the Ambassador Interpreter, which adds a new dimension to the implementation of A.I. translation. It's only when you try to break down the process of interpretation that you realize just how much of a dance it is between speaking and listening, and the good people at Waverly Labs are clearly doing lots of thinking to come up with these modes.

Indicator lights for pairing (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

A Faster Interpretation Process

We're currently in an era where no one is surprised anymore that their phones can take simple voice instructions, or even transcribe little paragraphs just by speaking to it. But the point of difference that the Ambassador Interpreter from with the usual voice assistant is the speed at which it comprehends the voice - which is critical in an interpretation situation.

From our testing I would say that the Ambassador Interpreter picks up my speech and starts interpreting the speech 2 or 3 times faster than Google Translate. Though it might only be a few split seconds faster, in a situation where the incoming speech is continuous, they are precious seconds count, crucial in improving the user's comprehension.

The Ambassador Interpreter (Photo: IBTimes / Jeff Li)

Final Verdict

Interpretation earphones have been in sci-fi films since Uhura's communication earpiece in Star Trek, and can still be seen as a central technology in recent movie plots like South Korea's 2020 flick: Space Sweepers. It's both an anticipated and fantasized about reality that the human race will one day be able to completely break free of all language barriers, and with machine learning and big data we're closer than ever before to see it realized.

Waverly Labs' Ambassador Interpreter is at the forefront of consumer personal translator, getting many things right including it's form factor, it's various translation modes and how fast it responds to speech. If you're needing a personal interpreter at your next business meeting and want something more professional than what your mobile phone can do, I recommend the Ambassador Interpreter over other devices that are on the market.

David is a tech enthusiast/writer who is often on the move and is on a mission to explore ways to make his overhaul flights more enjoyable. This is a contribution to an ongoing IBTimes review series on gadgets for Business Travellers.