What could be worse than producing a brilliant product, only to see it undercut by tone-deaf marketers? That's the problem faced by the Ili Wearable Translator, a cleverly-executed device that translates spoken sentences on the fly. Designed with the traveler in mind, the microphone has been engineered to "accurately [capture] your voice even in an environment such as a market, pub, or urban clutter [while the] speaker clearly projects your translated message above the background noise."
Unfortunately, after being live for less than 24 hours, the company's first commercial has drawn a sharply divided reaction on social media. Responses range from amused wonder to, of course in this day and age, outrage. Views swiftly reached the millions. On YouTube, the same video had Likes/Dislikes at about a 54/46 ratio at press time. Here's what all the fuss is about, you be the judge:
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I personally found the device wondrous, and the presentation creepy. But forget what I think--when the mainstream media gets ahold of this, decriers will cite everything from rape culture to cultural imperialism.
Judging by comments, supporters find the commercial a bit of harmless fun—and perhaps it would have been twenty years ago, before statistics about men forcing themselves on women were as widely known (or cared about). A question that ought be asked is, "If you're a woman, would you want some random guy approaching you and having his electronic device ask you if he can press his mouth against yours?"
The cultural question is equally sticky. What response would this draw if it was a Japanese man approaching British women in London, or an African man approaching American women in the deep South?
The real shame of all of this is: The device is marvelous. It's tiny. It doesn't require Wi-Fi, 3G nor internet access to work. The technologists behind it have cracked the difficulty of verbally translating a tonal language, as Chinese (we assume Mandarin) is included in the first batch of languages, alongside English and Japanese. The second language pack is projected to include another tonal language, Thai, alongside French and Korean. The third version will include Spanish, Italian and Arabic.
The product developers undoubtedly meant for this to be nothing more than an extremely useful device. It's unfortunate that whomever wrote and produced the commercial was clueless of the potential response. And judging by our modern-day cultural climate, resultant discussions are not likely to be productive: Flame wars will begin, friends will be defriended, Twitter accounts blocked. Outrage will be countered by outrage fatigue, and people will stop listening. The supreme irony is that this device was designed to allow people to better communicate with each other, yet will start out by having the opposite effect.