Automated Translating Devices, a Threat to Your Secrets?

Pixabay/Public Domain

Technology is making the world around us increasingly interesting, with the barrier put down by the languages we speak slowly being erased by various gadgets coming up on the market. While this is great in many aspects, it poses a certain threat to those looking to protect their secrets when traveling, for instance.

When you’re in a place where everyone speaks your language, you are mindful of what you say, knowing those around you will fully understand you. “I’ll tell you when I get home,” you tell your spouse over the phone, trying to keep whatever embarrassing story you have to share a secret from your bus mates.

When traveling, however, you might be more relaxed and choose to speak your native tongue about anything and everything, knowing those around you will not understand what you’re saying. And yet, the Internet is full of tales from people who overheard others’ conversations in languages they thought those around them didn’t know.

The fact of the matter is that the world around us is changing at a rapid pace. We don’t just have to deal with the risk of someone overhearing us in the streets and exposing our deepest cyber secrets to them, even when speaking a foreign language, but also the risk posed by the ever-listening devices we bring into our homes.

Do you have a home assistant? That’s great. They’re really helpful, aren’t they? Telling you whether to grab a jacket or an umbrella, ordering pizza for you, telling you your schedule, changing the TV channel for you without even having to press a small button on the remote, or shutting down the light without getting up from the couch. And yet, that means they’re always active. They’re always listening to see if you’re going to speak the magic words. “Ok, Google, what’s on TV right now?” “Alexa, turn off the light.”

Theoretically, the devices are only listening in to pick up the catchphrase, and only recording you after that phrase is spoken, but the reality is that there have been numerous misfires reported, like when Alexa called the cops in a domestic violence case. Even worse, there’s no telling a hacker wouldn’t be able to take control of the device and turn it into an all-out spy.

And yet, we’ve become somewhat desensitized to always being listened on. As opposed to the feeling we get when someone is watching us, there’s no such feeling we get when someone is listening in on us. There’s a whole science to that nagging feeling that someone is watching us, and there have been numerous studies done over the years. The explanation is that while the visual cortex in our brain controls all conscious vision, there are other parts of the brain that process other things captured by your eyes, like things you see with the corner of your eye but don’t really register, which might very well be essential for your survival.

While we may not react in the same instinctual way when someone is listening in on us, that doesn’t mean it’s less bothersome to know our words are being listened to, even when we’re trying to keep them hidden. Alas, technology advancements are being made and there’s nothing that can stop them. We’ll just need to learn to adjust, as we always do.

Well, this situation is about to take an even steeper turn with inventions like the Pilot translating earpiece from Waverly labs, or the instant translating devices popping up around Asia that have made the rounds on the Internet. While the product that Waverly labs is cooking is still in the early stages and requires that both speakers share an earpiece and connect over a smartphone app to get the required translations, the future isn’t far from us and we could see, in a few years, a device that can translate someone’s conversations on the go, without the other people needing to wear a headset. In that way, the situation would resemble that of international political meetings where everyone wears a headset and the conversations are translated for them on the spot. Only this time, there would be no expert doing the job for them, it would be an AI-based machine. In the future, we might not even be able to see someone is wearing one of the headsets and that they’re listening in on us at all. This could, obviously, become a problem for international negotiations where native tongues are used as a sort of secret code that the other parties can’t understand.

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