A bit of news popped up today regarding a pair of paramedics in Ireland who delivered a baby before the mother could reach the hospital as planned. This is not in itself newsworthy, however the woman, a native swahili speaker, spoke only limited english. The solution was to use Google Translate to assist with communication in real-time as she delivered the baby.
What’s remarkable about this story is not so much that this technology was used in such a way, as it is that the story is not particularly remarkable, today. We have become so accustomed to such a constant, rapid pace of technological innovation that what would have been science fiction just a few decades ago is not only commonplace but mundane. This despite the enormous complexity of recognizing and translating spoken natural language, and the monstrous amount of research performed to get to this state. By any rights, Google Translate should be a huge story, but it has appeared and grown over the years with relatively little fanfare.
The reality is that we are so accustomed to amazing technologies appearing and becoming commonplace that we’ve largely stopped noticing. In retrospect, this seems like an inversion of the “future shock” problem, where technological change happens too rapidly. Rather than resisting and fighting change, we’ve become downright blasé.