If you haven’t checked it out already Wordlens is an amazingly cool iPhone app that will automatically translate text on the fly, as you see it.
I’ve had it on my phone for about a month now, but I find that the things it messes up are far more interesting than the things it gets right. Messes up is really the wrong term here. The best parts of wordlens happen when you point it at things you arn’t supposed to point it at or that arn’t in the language you are supposed to be translating.
When you hold it up and pan around your environment it is like the software is uncovering the hidden meanings in your environment. For example, I pointed it at some of the congressional buildings on my walk home and was told that “NEICAH” was apparently “IN”.
It is a jarring experience to walk around and see these words keep poping up, as if they emerge out of the environment. After using it for a bit you get a handle for what kinds of things you can trick it into thinking are text.
You want to have some clear horizontal lines, but beyond that you want a visual space with some clear visual breaks in it. For example, a flower bed worked great. I couldn’t help thinking that it would be really neat if they would create some explicit vocabulary packs that were focused on this off purpose use. If instead of simply translating text the Wordlens developers gave us a few more fun ways to try and deform and uncover hidden meaning and jokes in reality.
Eventually, I went out and bought the Spanish to English pack. I wanted to see what kind of things it would see when it was working off a English vocabulary. That is when I realized that the Wordlens developers had already given us everything we need. Just flip it on to try and turn Spanish into English and refuse to show it any Spanish and you have your self something between a decoder ring and a reading machine that you can turn to deform any text or potential text for fun and profit. Ok, no profit, but lots of fun. Possibly insight. You can see some of the results of that in the gallery. I most enjoyed what happened when I turned it on some of my books. The following examples are Wordlens attempting to translate books with English language titles from Spanish into English.
Wordlens can be Snarky and Potentially Insightful
I thought some of these were rather funny. When exposed to the Spanish to English filter Debates in the Digital Humanities became “DEBATES IN THE OR DIGITAL ROYALTY.” Something that is particularly humorous given discussion of the digital humanities cool kids table. It felt a little bit like Mark’s “Hacking the Accident” moment. The machine is mangling the text and that deformed text provokes thought and consideration.
Observing the User Experience became Observing Was User experience. Which is in fact totally true. Observers are themselves users observing other users.
Wordlens seems to disagree with Latour’s Actor Network Theory, which it calls “THE Actor-N ERRORS THEORY.” Or I suppose this might actually be a totally different book, one written by Bruno Brassr called “Reassembling Read Social” in which we are introduced to the brand new Actor-NERRORS Theory.
I have saved the best for last. In what seemed particularly topical, Steve Ramsey’s Reading Machines becomes Reading Machetes. Even better, when we flip to the back of the book we learn that it is part of the Mythical Theory Reiterate Studies series. Based off his “CREEP” essay “Toward an Algorithmic Criticism.” From there I think I lose it a bit. Something about his “Thai Wrath.” With that said, I love that literary computing becomes Liberary computing which I assume is a mixture of liberation and library. Importantly, the back of Reading Machetes mentions the GNU operating system, liberary computing at its best. It is also apparently “Trying” to “Shame” other scholars for their “LETHARGY” Criticism. Ha!
Here is a gallery of a few more images: