It seems like every few weeks now we hear about some exciting new innovation in computer technology—a brand-new application that (at least according to the advertising hype) will upend life as we know it. For the deaf and hearing-impaired of the world, the Live Transcribe app Google rolled out in limited beta on Monday, February the 4th, certainly seems to be just such an earth-shaking new tool.
But is it really?
Live Transcribe truly is an astonishing application. Developed by Google research scientist Dimitri Kanevsky—who has been deaf since childhood—this Android application listens in on the words being spoken around it and provides a transcription of those worlds in real time using only a smartphone’s microphone and screen.
Live Transcribe truly is an astonishing achievement, but the simple fact is, for the time being, it will only be helpful for a portion of the world’s deaf and hearing impaired—not all. Google translate currently supports more than 100 languages, and it won’t likely take long for Live Transcribe to move beyond the testing phase and become available in all of them. However, these hundred-plus languages are only the most widely-spoken of all spoken languages. There are over seven thousand languages, and for deaf and hearing impaired speakers of minority languages, this technology simply will not meet their needs.
Although no one application can definitively solve a problem of the human experience, we hope that Live Transcribe will one day be expanded into practical use for all people—not just those who happen to have been born into or have learned to speak one of the world’s dominant languages. Our own Bloom software can help fill that gap. Our Talking Book feature allows voice recordings to be added to Bloom books for any language, and the Sign Language tool allows the addition of sign language video.
While these serve a different function than Google’s Live Transcribe, we believe they are nonetheless a powerful tool for ensuring that some of the world’s most vulnerable people (and the languages that help define them) will not be left behind.
The explosion of new computer technologies in the past few decades has made a world of difference for many marginalized groups, allowing them to use their languages in previously unimaginable ways.
But as these technologies continue to appear, it’s important to remember that part of what makes humanity so amazing is its diversity. Until we all have a voice—until the deaf and hearing impaired of all nations are included—we will all be somewhat diminished.
Bloom Enterprise is a paid subscription service offered by SIL LEAD which adds additional features and services to Bloom that are particularly important to international organizations, including the ability to create Books that are accessible for the Visually Impaired and the Blind.
By subscribing to this service, international projects can meet some of their unique needs while also supporting the development and user support of Bloom, which helps everybody.