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Will Brain Wave Technology Eliminate the Need for a Second Language?
Zoltan Istvan   Sep 29, 2014   huffingtonpost.com  

Earlier this year, the first mind-to-mind communication took place. Hooked up to brain wave headsets, a researcher in India projected a thought to a colleague in France, and they understood each other. Telepathy went from the pages of science fiction to reality.

Using electroencephalography (EEG) sensors that pick up and monitor brain activity, brain wave technology has been advancing quickly in the last few years. A number of companies already sell basic brain wave reading devices, such as the Muse headband. Some companies offer headsets that allow you to play a video game on your iPhone using only thoughts. NeuroSky's MindWave can attach to Google Glass and allow you to take a picture and post it to Facebook and Twitter just by thinking about it. Even the army has (not very well) flown a helicopter using only thoughts and a brain wave headset.

Despite the immense interest in brain wave technology, little attention has been paid to what translation apps--such as Google Translator--will mean to an upcoming generation that will likely embrace brain wave tech. Youth will surely ask: What is the point of learning a second language if everyone will be communicating with brain wave headsets that can perform perfect real-time language translations?

The question is valid, even if it's sure to upset millions of second language teachers and dozens of language learning companies, like publicly traded Rosetta Stone. Like it or not, sophisticated brain wave headsets will soon become as cheap as cell phones. A growing number of technologists think the future of communication lies in these headsets, and not handheld devices or smart phones.

However, the question of whether it will be useful to learn a new language in the future is about far more than just human communication and what technological form that takes. Different languages introduce us to other cultures, other peoples, and other countries. This creates personal growth, offering invaluable examination on our own culture and how we perceive the world. The process broadens who we are.

Being proficient in other languages also offers certain nuances that knowing only one language cannot. French offers far more romantic and poetic gist than English ever can. But Arabic is steeped in more historical imagery and connotation than French. And nothing compares to Hungarian's ability to effectively curse in ways that all other languages fall far short of.

Perhaps most importantly, learning a second language offers the physical brain a chance to grow in new and meaningful ways. The study of a new language, for example, is often suggested to early on-set Alzheimer's patients to help stimulate the brain's proper functioning.

Ultimately, the most quintessential question rests on whether there are more important things to be doing in today's busy world than learning a new language. With radical transhumanist tech changing our most basic functions like communicating, is society better off pushing its youth to learn how to write code, or to speed read, or to play the violin? In hindsight, I would've rather spent my time becoming a proficient martial artist than the six years I studied Spanish in school.

​Whatever your opinion, the future of learning languages and how we communicate is in flux. Speaking at the 2014 World Future Society conference in Florida, Singularity University Professor Jose Cordeiro said, "Spoken language could start disappearing in 20 years. We'll all talk with each other using thoughts scanned and projected from our headsets and maybe even chip implants. This will radically increase the speed and bandwidth of human communications."

Twenty years isn't that far off. I'm not ready yet to drop my 4-year-old daughter's Chinese lessons, but I am keeping my eye on whether technology is going to change some of our basic communication assumptions, like the value of learning a second language.




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