Finally! You no longer have to let language barriers keep you from lying to random girls you meet on the street of a foreign land.
I’ll be honest: I don’t put much faith in the process of automated translation, especially when English and Japanese are involved. The two languages’ sentence structures, particularly for casual conversation, have so many contractions, omissions, and vagaries that it’s virtually impossible for a translation program to pick up on and keep track of all the context and nuance necessary to provide an accurate translation.
Still, if you stick to a rather rigid style of speaking and completely unambiguous vocabulary, it is possible for a machine to translate speech. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, wearable technology company LogBar unveiled ili, a portable translator that can translate between English, Japanese, and Chinese. You wear ili on a cord around your neck, as demonstrated here.
You may think that the man in that photo looks more like a wannabe pick-up artist than a budding linguist, but LogBar seems to be promising that ili will make you both. The company has just released a promotional video for the device in which a British presenter wanders the streets of Tokyo, equipped with an ili, and tries to talk random Japanese girls he encounters into kissing him.
After announcing “I’m gonna try and kiss girls I’ve never met before using this translation device, ili,” our dauntless host sets off to look for prey in the concrete jungle of Tokyo, and things get creepy in fairly short order.
Now, before we dive into the myriad ways in which LogBar’s video is unsettling, I’d like to make a few things clear. First, I’ve got no problem with someone being attracted to another person based on physical or visual criteria (I get paid to write about butts, for God’s sake). Second, just like I think it’s fine to become multilingual in order to expand your academic or professional opportunities, I don’t have any issues with someone learning another language because they think it’ll improve their romantic prospects (my Japanese wife certainly appreciates that I can speak her native tongue).
Still, there’s a gentlemanly way and an ungentlemanly way to go about approaching an alluring stranger, and more than one of Mr. Ili’s attempts for a post-hello kiss fall into the less-than-respectable pile.
For example, there’s the time he tries to convince a woman sitting on a park bench that swapping spit with someone you’ve just met is “very normal in the U.K.,” which is either a bald-faced lie or evidence that my numerous British coworkers, none of whom kissed me when we were introduced, really don’t like me very much.
And while some girls seem to get a genuine laugh out of his cheesy pick-up lines, this woman, in what appears to be the Shibuya neighborhood, is less amused when he tries to grab her by the elbow and pull her towards him.
Another classy move is when he tells a woman “Let’s try. No one’s looking”…while the entire thing is being filmed from afar.
Making things particularly odd is the fact that the company behind ili is Japanese. LogBar has its main office in Tokyo, with another in California, and is led by Japanese CEO Takuro Yoshida.
From a technical standpoint, though, ili seems to work pretty well, provided the device in the video is an actual working prototype and not just a mock-up set to play back pre-selected phrases at the push of its button. It even manages a serviceable translation when the video host’s English gets a little rough.
Still, don’t go burning all your Japanese textbooks and vocabulary flashcards just yet. For starters, ili won’t be going on sale until summer at the earliest. Plus, the product’s very first bilingual promotional still runs headfirst into one of those context-based machine translation errors discussed earlier.
ili has interpreted “What’s up?” as a greeting, not an earnest request for information. That’s not a bad conclusion, but it’s chosen to translate the phrase as “Ne, genki?”, a common Japanese greeting that literally means, “Hey, are you doing well?” As such, the translated-into-English response to “What’s up?” is likely to be something like, “Yeah, I sure am!”
And really, if your plan is to use ili for the purpose shown in the video, I’m not sure you actually need any help from fancy new technology, since we’ve already seen that you can creep women out in Japan even if you don’t speak Japanese.
▼ Douchiness is the universal language.