Written by Angela Barnes

In The News

Lost in translation

Ili is a nifty bit of kit, which can solve a shedload of problems. So why, asks Angela Barnes, market it as a tool for sexual harassment?

welcome-976277_1920Remember the Babel fish from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? If not, here you go: “The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like and probably the oddest thing in the universe… if you stick one in your ear, you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language: the speech you hear decodes the brain wave matrix.”

A fish you stick in your ear which becomes a universal translator. Wouldn’t that be ace? No more flicking helplessly through phrasebooks on the street trying to piece together a question for some hapless local and looking so much like a tourist you might as well have a target printed on your back. Good, eh? Well, not the fish in the ear part; that’s a bit icky, especially for a committed icthyophobe such as myself, but a wearable translator device which is voice controlled? Yes please.

Well, I am pleased to inform you, this is no longer the stuff of Douglas Adams’ marvellous brain. I present to you Ili, developed by tech company Logbar, showcased at CES 2016 (a global consumer technology tradeshow in Las Vegas): the world’s first wearable translator.

You hold Ili in your hand and it translates what you say into the desired language. From your voice. To their ear. It doesn’t need Wi-Fi or even 3G/4G connectivity. Right now, it does English, Japanese and Chinese translations, but later generations will expand to other languages. It looks properly awesome.

This thing will surely sell itself to anyone who goes anywhere using a language they don’t speak.

So, you may ask yourself, why on earth is the video released online to promote this potentially brilliant bit of kit so damned stomach churningly, vomit-inducingly creepy and downright sexist?

(Props to the woman who hit him with her handbag.)

How did this ever seem like a good idea? How does chasing a clearly distressed woman through a park sell a product? How does that last, awful, uncomfortable scene persuade anybody to part with their cash?

I would have loved to have been in that PR meeting.

“So guys, we have this brilliant product, how can we promote it?”

“Well, if you find yourself in Japan, say, and you lose your wallet, no problem, go to the police station and this device can translate your problem into perfect Japanese.”

“Losing your wallet, a bit negative…?”

“OK, how about, you’re in a coffee shop. You see someone across the room, you feel a connection, you can’t put your finger on it, but you need to speak to them. Ili can help you to introduce yourself and start a conversation.”

“Getting warmer…”

“I’ve got it! We’ll get a British man to go on the streets of Tokyo with a mission. And that mission is to approach, try to kiss (sexually assault) and embarrass as many unsuspecting women as possible.”

“Bingo! Take the rest of the afternoon off.”

It’s a whole world of unsettling creepiness reminiscent of the world of The Game or the Pick-Up Artist movement. Yuck, yuck, yuck.

“Just by writing this piece, I’ve played into the hands of the PR machine. An advertising exec somewhere tonight is rubbing his or her hands with glee.”

My initial thoughts when I saw it were, “will my arse cheeks ever unclench” and, “what a waste of potential concepts”. Why had they chosen this way to promote the Ili? People, especially those on the internet, are constantly looking for offence, even where it DOESN’T exist. So why would you go out of your way to make something so obviously offensive and creepy and uncomfortable to sell your product?

Then it hits me. The reason they have done this is obvious, isn’t it? I want to be wrong, but I don’t think I am. What’s the best way to ensure people are talking about your product? Offend them.

Would this video have got half as many tweets, retweets, Facebook shares and Google+ shares (come on, someone, somewhere must be using Google+), had it simply outlined a good wholesome way in which it can be used? Outraged people share things and talk about things that outrage them. To the WHOLE WORLD.

Oh God, just by writing this piece, I’ve played into the hands of the PR machine. An advertising exec somewhere tonight is rubbing his or her hands with glee.

Have we created a world where advertisers know that the BEST way to get things talked about is to deliberately do something offensive? I only know about this product because I saw a Facebook post by an outraged viewer. You might only know about this product because of this article. What have we done?


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Written by Angela Barnes

Angela Barnes is an award-winning standup comedian. She is sometimes on TV and the radio and is often in a comedy club near you. @AngelaBarnes