Predicting the future

This week, I’ve coincidentally had several different conversations about the future of machine translation.

Google Translate is already amazing – check out its real-time audio translation, or how it uses augmented reality to replace words in a menu or road sign.

What’s next? In each conversation, we decided we could look a few years ahead. A working Babel fish (in-ear translator). Improved quality. More fluent, conversational audio.

But we were all stumped as to what would be further away. Where would we be in 10 years? Or 20? It proved surprisingly difficult to make any guesses at all, let alone plausible ones. I felt like we were like the worst of 60s sci-fi predictions: plenty of jet packs and shiny silver clothing, but no internet or mobile phones.

I think this simply shows that foretelling the future is difficult – hopefully, it’s not just me. Perhaps the lesson is to be wary of any predictions, however confidently they are expressed. If someone says they know what’s going to happen, they’re almost certainly wrong. Be careful who you believe.

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