You know a video’s going viral when at least three people ask or tell me about it in as many days.
On one hand*, COOL. And surely a good starting foundation for more advanced technology. On the other hand*, you know there’s a but coming…
- It doesn’t seem to address facial expression or body language, which are two essential components of sign language. Those two don’t just add flavor; they add meaning. Not sure how you can track these things just yet.
- “Pure” sign languages (i.e., ones that haven’t been adapted for speech) also tend to be more spatial than linear, plus the grammar is typically wildly different from spoken language. Even sign systems designed to transliterate speech generally don’t catch all components of spoken language, so I’d expect the voicing to be piecemeal at best.
- There’s no reverse translation; it’s sign-to-voice only, so it doesn’t make spoken language visually accessible for d/hh people.
- The translation would probably be akin to running something through Google Translate– if not worse.
More than that, not all d/hh people know, use, or even prefer sign language. Even among signers, quite a few prefer to use transliteration rather than interpretation. Anecdotally, I’ve heard of captioning gaining far more popularity in colleges than sign language interpreting. Personally, while I have no qualms about using sign language to converse directly with other signers, I’ve had way too many interpreting mishaps to trust it for anything beyond basic conversation with English speakers. It’s far too much reliance on a third party’s understanding and expertise for my liking. I’m not that much more optimistic about a machine.
On the other other hand*, I could see these gloves working better for straight fingerspelling or Cued Speech, especially if they were combined with an automated transcription software. Unlike sign languages, cued speech has a finite set of eight handshapes that can be matched with a similarly finite selection of phonemes to produce words. I expect it’d sound incredibly robotic– which would certainly add an extra twist to the blog name, A Croaking Dalek— but there would likely be less potential for word jumble like what you’d get with ASL or Signed English.