AI will revolutionise the way we communicate - and live

AI-enabled fully fluent live audio translation may bring the end of the nation state as we know it.

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    A representation of the ancient myth of the Tower of Babel, which explains the origin of world's languages, by Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612) [Getty]
    A representation of the ancient myth of the Tower of Babel, which explains the origin of world's languages, by Marten van Valckenborch (1535-1612) [Getty]

    Even as social and political scientists struggle to understand the impact of the internet and the social media platforms it has spawned on human societies around the world, a vast new communication revolution is about to burst on humanity within five to 10 years.

    This upcoming revolution will surpass in its impact on Homo sapiens all revolutions in human communications except perhaps the very first revolution, which was the evolution of verbal communication among our earliest ancestors.

    This barely acknowledged revolution, which is likely to change the entire course of human history in a few short decades, is the rise of Artificial Intelligence-enabled, fully fluent live audio translation of conversations between humans of all ethnicities.

    We are not just talking about the literal translation of English or French into Russian or Chinese, but the translation of the subtle meanings wrapped in cultural allegories that even fluent but non-native speakers of a language often miss.

    Massive migration waves

    This means that armed with nothing more than an Artificial Intelligence, or AI, audio translation app on a mobile phone, an American tourist could enter a farmer's market in Turkey or Germany and, not only haggle over prices, but laugh and joke with a local fruit seller as if he was Turkish or German. Wait another decade and he will be able to do the same thing in China. 

    Suddenly, everything we consider today a barrier to mutual understanding between peoples will fall away as millennia of linguistically based cultural and religious isolation in discrete societal units between billions of human beings to dissolve within a few decades.

    What will this mean for the modern bureaucratic nation state, which evolved over the last 300 years in an environment that allowed for the voluntary and/or enforced organisation of millions of individuals into separate political units on the basis of linguistic and cultural differences?

    What will it mean for ethnic and religious identities when a complete foreigner's deepest worries, anxieties and hopes become intelligible? 

    Will it still be possible to create a national state bureaucracy by training and imbuing a group of individuals with a sense of duty and commitment to a single language or cultural group? More urgently, what will it mean for human migrations around the world?

    Governments around the world need to begin preparing for the wrenching changes to identity politics when the incentive for people to cooperate more with people who speak their own language is no longer an overriding factor in the political empowerment of individuals.

     

    If an Albanian is able to understand the most obscure German phrase and reply to it in perfect German, what power on earth will stop him from leaving a job paying an average wage of less than $3,200 a year, when he can travel to Germany and potentially qualify for a job with an average wage of $32,000 a year?

    Furthermore, will Africans, Asians and South Americans, whose standard of living is a fraction of that in industrialised countries choose to remain in relative poverty because they will feel like aliens outside their country's borders, or will they pick up and leave to find work on another continent with no language barriers to deal with?

    It stands to reason that the elimination of language and cultural barriers around the world by AI will lead to massive migrations of people seeking a better standard of living across and between continents. 

    Turning point in identity politics

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    Governments everywhere will be overwhelmed by the force of billions of migrating individuals who in a few short decades lose all sense of societal belonging and cohesion.

    And lest the hopeful expect peace and brotherhood to follow, one could argue that the majority of individuals who died violently throughout history were killed by people who spoke their language and shared their religion.

    One example is the fact that the 750,000 killed in the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865, exceeds American deaths in all the United States' wars combined since, including both world wars.

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    Governments around the world need to begin thinking about these questions and preparing for the wrenching changes to identity politics when the incentive for people to cooperate more with people who speak their own language is no longer an overriding factor in the political empowerment of individuals.

    Karl Marx predicted as much with his famous slogan "workers of the world unite". However, both he and his apostles Lenin and Trotsky underestimated the power of cultural and linguistic identities in preventing, for example, German and Russian factory workers from identifying with each other against the capitalists of their own countries, more than their sense of common belonging to an imagined nation of people.

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    It took hard practical street fighters such as Stalin and Mao to discard the idealistic "brotherhood of man" implied in pure Marxist thought and replace it with hybrid ideologies that were just a rung above national socialism in their combination of national identity politics and central planning as an organiser of human societies.

    That these hybrid ideologies, often referred to as Marxist-Leninism and Maoism failed miserably is beyond doubt. However, the coming AI-enabled change in the equation of identity politics around the world goes far beyond anything that Marx, Stalin and Mao could ever have imagined.

    Nabil Al-Khowaiter is a Saudi business development consultant living in Riyadh.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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