On the original Star Trek, Captain Kirk seduced the alien babes with the help of his trusty Universal Translator. The Colonial warriors of the Battlestar Galactica (1978 vintage, of course) carried a gadget called the Languatron while on patrol, just in case they ran into non-English-speaking creatures. And in an inspired bit of silliness, Douglas Adams came up with the miraculous -- and unexpectedly deicidal -- Babel fish for the heroes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Well, the new iPhone app Word Lens won't exactly turn your phone into a Languatron or a Babel fish -- it works with text only, not spoken language -- but it's pretty damn incredible nonetheless. Check it out:
This is not a hoax. It's available at the iTunes app store and I've found reviews for it in a number of places. And even though the reviews appear to be mixed -- the app's literal approach leads to a good percentage of Engrish-style misunderstandings, apparently -- the thing does work, if not quite optimally. One reviewer says, "Word Lens will work well enough if you need to read a street sign or specials in a restaurant." And I can attest from my own experiences as a monoglot wandering alone through Germany that understanding street signs and menus is often all you need to get by.
As my Loyal Readers have probably figured out by now, I'm not a real cutting-edge guy, and I resist hopping on most bandwagons just on principle... but this app is almost enough to make me want an iPhone. Almost. Maybe when my five-year-old Nokia flip-job finally gives up the ghost and I have a practical incentive for buying a new phone...
(Via Andrew Sullivan, a political blogger who is often at his most interesting when he's not writing about politics...)