I called my son.
‘Dad, it’s the first time we have ever phoned each other’, said my son Harry. He’s 22 years old and talking to him on the phone was a defining moment for me.
For those of you who don’t know me, I should probably explain. Why should something so simple represent an important milestone?
Well, I am profoundly deaf since birth and I rely on captions and lip-reading for communication. Up to this point I have been unable to use a phone for voice communication. The difference yesterday was that I was able to use the new Google Pixel 4 phone, which has a Live Caption feature. It has been available since last year but only recently, it’s switched on for phone calls.
This feature meant that when Harry spoke, the words were instantly converted to text. This happened in real time so that I could read what Harry was saying and engage in conversation. The quality of the captioning was timely and perfect in every instance (except once when Harry said, ‘Ewan’, pronounced You-An, and the captions printed out, ‘you and’).
It was the first time I didn’t have to rely on someone to listen to the call and translate for me. It’s also the first time I could ‘listen’ to my voicemails – I had always ignored or deleted them. But in this moment, I felt fully included. I didn’t have to do anything. The captions came on automatically and there was no friction.
This is a perfect example of where technology helps people in society to live better lives. There is a lot of criticism of Big Tech (some of it is justified) but in equal measure, it’s important to consider the positives. In this instance, it means I can now call to book a table at a restaurant, call the emergency services, call my friends and family, liaise with customer services and so on. Like everyone else does.
The Live Caption feature will have a huge impact on society. Over 460 million people with hearing impairment could benefit from it.
I can’t thank the Google team enough. Thank you.