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On the language barrier and AI.

Natively, I speak Telugu. I've learnt to speak Hindi and English. I currently live in a city, where most speak Marathi. I used to live in a city where most spoke Tamil. And I'm not atypical. Most Indians cross state lines over the course of their lives, for work or other reasons. And the language barrier is the biggest problem while doing so.
Personally, even though I lived in Chennai for over 6 years, I still can't speak or understand Tamil and Marathi might as well be Arabic to me, even after living in Pune for just over an year. (I'm clearly not trying hard enough to learn the language.) Unlike me, most people who stay for a long (1+ year) at a location learn the local language, because it makes day-to-day life easier. But what about travelers? What about those who stay for a short period of time? What about those not educated in a common language?

You can argue that a majority of Indians can speak and understand Hindi. Actually, No. And no, the majority of Indians don't speak or understand English either. This is what I meant by having a common language to communicate in. What do we do now?

Well, taking a small detour, Google Translate and the Chrome browser do a pretty good job at translating content from one language to another. There are also options available to spell the translated word/text, if I'm not wrong. What if I could instead say something that Google could then transcribe and then translate. This is where I think AI/ML can help.

Imagine this. There are two people talking, in two different languages. An AI is handling the transcription and translation. This AI can be a simple app on a mobile phone that simply records the audio and outputs a text, in a language of choice. It could have a Google Glass like interface where the user's words appear as subtitles in the language of choice. Or it could be noise-canceling headphone that repeat the other person's words in the language of choice. You choose which would provide the best user interface. I would personally choose the first because it's easier to prototype and release.

If I'm not wrong, AI isn't good at transcribing languages other than English yet. The Chinese are also working on this problem, specifically Alibaba. Otherwise, I don't know if an AI exists that can transcribe Hindi or Tamil or Marathi. Developing one such AI would dramatically increase communication between the people across state and national borders.

I'm going to put this in the `Someday in the future` box of things that I plan to work on. Until then.

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