I tested their AI translation skills wearing Meta Ray-Bans in Montreal. It didn’t go well

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Imagine you’ve just arrived in another country, you don’t know the language, and you suddenly arrive in a construction zone. The air is thick with dust. You’re tired. You still smell like an airplane. You try to ignore the jackhammers in order to understand what the signs say: do you need to cross the street, or walk to another block, or turn back?

I was in Absolutely That wasn’t the case this week, but I was prepared. I went to Montreal to spend two days testing the new AI translation feature on Meta’s Ray-Ban smart sunglasses. Within 10 minutes of setting out on my first walk, I was hit by a barrage of confusing orange circled signs.

The AI ​​translation feature aims to give users a quick, hands-free way to understand text written in foreign languages, so I couldn’t have created a better pop quiz on how it works in real-time.

As an excavator rumbled by, I saw a sign and asked my sunglasses to tell me what was on it. Before I could finish, an upset Quebec construction worker started yelling at me and pointing north, and I ran across the street.

Right at the beginning of my AI adventure, I encountered the biggest drawback of this translation software – it doesn’t tell you what people say right away. It can only parse written words.

I already knew the feature was only for writing at the moment, so this was no surprise. But soon, I ran into its other less obvious hurdles. Over the next 48 hours, I tested the AI ​​translation on a variety of road signs, business signs, advertisements, historical plaques, religious literature, children’s books, tourist pamphlets, and menus – with wildly varying results.

Sometimes it was even competent, like when it told me that the book I bought for my son, Three beaux babes, It was about three beautiful children. (Correct.) It told me over and over that open It meant “open,” which, to be honest, I already knew, but I wanted to give it some lay-up.

As often as not, my robot translator was not up to the task. It told me that the translation of the sign for the infamous adult movie theater Cinema L’Amour is … “Cinema L’Amour.” (The F stands for effort – Google Translate at least turned it into “Cinema Love”).

At restaurants, I struggled to get it to read every item on the menu. For example, instead of telling me about all the different burger options at the Brew Pub, it simply told me there were “burgers and sandwiches,” and refused to provide more information despite my repeated prompting.

When I went to an Italian shop the next night, it also gave me a broad summary rather than a detailed description of the dishes available — I was told there were “grilled meat skewers” available, for example, but wasn’t told whether there were also duck confit, lamb, and beef options, or how much they cost.

Overall, right now AI translation is more of a whimsical party trick than an actual useful travel tool for foreign countries.

How it works (or doesn’t)

To use the AI ​​translation, the person wearing the glasses needs to say the following magic words: “Hey Meta, look…” and then ask him what he is looking at.

photo of montreal canada skyline

Courtesy of Kate Nibbs

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