One Step Closer
This sounds like big news...
There is no dearth of impressive student projects here at the finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup in Sydney, but one of the six finalists that caught my attention was a project called EnableTalk by the Ukrainian team QuadSquad. There are currently about 40 million deaf, mute and deaf-mute people and many of them use sign language to communicate, but there are very few people who actually understand sign language. Using gloves fitted with flex sensors, touch sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers (as well as some solar cells to increase battery life) the EnableTalk team has built a system that can translate sign language into text and then into spoken words using a text-to-speech engine. The whole system then connects to a smartphone over Bluetooth.
Again it sounds like big news, but what this really is is an intermediate step. A wonderful step, but intermediate nonetheless. Another intermediate solution will be one that turns thought directly into speech (which is more or less how things currently work for most of us.)
But even that won't be the ultimate solution. The ultimate solution will turn thought into speech, which will then be translated back into impressions directly into the brain.
At that point it won't matter whether a person is deaf or mute or, for that matter, what language he or she speaks. If we can turn thought into speech and then back into thought, real-time translation will probably already be a solved problem. Then we'll just need to make sure we have good controls for "volume" and "mute." We certainly don't want anyone in our heads who wasn't invited!