*Hear(Say)Think! is an experience design exploration questioning the legitimacy and competency of AI in translation softwares by physicalizing it’s process.


I’ve always been intrigued by how language is affected by culture, and the ambitous task of translators to act as facilitators between two different linguistic worlds. I found an article that claimed how AI and ML will make translators jobs redundant. That made me think whether language can really be understood through algorithmic structures. To understand language, one must also understand it’s cultural context. So then my question evolved to — can culture be quantified, and learned through computation?


Translation Fails

The internet is filled with a dearth of examples on how Google translate has resulted in faulty or nonsensical translations.

Will AI take over manual translation?

I found an article (followed by many others) lauding the speed at which AI and ML were catching up to learning through neural systems learning.


︎Translation softwares obscure culture,
as they do not understand context.

︎Even if AI were to understand context, will it be able to keep up with the pace of everyday culture, lingo, and individual expressions? Probably not. There is no “logic” to culture. 

︎Being a translator is probably very hard.


To physicalize the process of obscurement of culture, that occurs in translation software, to prove that without context, communication becomes much harder even within the bounds of the same language.

Through a set of three mini-games, the *Hear(Say)Think! kit invites participation to disrupt communication by taking away the context from words.

Each mini-game comes with set-up instruction, rules and all the game pieces. The only thing to do is play! 

The Win-Woe
Utilizing a literal barrier in communication, two people have to talk to each other, one can only write, the other can only speak.

Speak & Spell Based on the simple concept of homophones (similar sounding words), one player says a word without revealing the spelling, while the other tries to guess which spelling it is!

Meaningfully Twisted Based on the concept of homonyms (same spelling, different meaning words), the two players write the meaning of the word on the card, comparing it to see they wrote the same meaning.  

The discussions that followed after resulted in a lot of discourse about how important context is to the way we perceive things. Even with simple words like “rock”, one of us would think “music” and the other would think “stone”, or “rocking chair”.

Learnings This project was my first time designing a participatory experience. It was rewarding, and made me notice and really appreciate cultural nuance.
One of my takeaways was to not try to control the natural reactions and interactions people had while playing these games.