An infoscope is a handheld device that includes a color camera and wireless Internet connectivity. The infoscope is used to take a picture of text in some language the user is not fluent in. Then the picture is sent to a remote computer, converted into text, translated and returned to the handheld device, all within a timespan of about 15 seconds. This device is still in the prototype stage, but should be available to consumers by 2010. The infoscope was developed by IBM's Almaden Research Center and originally conceived by researcher Ismail Haritaoglu, who came up with the idea while waiting for the subway in Japan. The device was named as one of TIME's 2002 Best Inventions.
The current prototype of the device can handle English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Chinese. The device is hailed as being an early step in an area known as augmented reality, in which the experience of daily reality is augmented by the introduction of virtual data. Future models of the infoscope might incorporate a microphone and speaker to translate spoken language in real time. Such an invention could rapidly dissolve the cultural barriers separating the nations and cultures of the world today.
Part of making the infoscope useful is the ubiquitous presence of wireless networks, a utility still lacking as of 2005. However, certain countries and cities have noted the extreme usefulness of ubiquitous wireless networks, and many have intiatives for deploying such networks in major metropolitan areas before 2015.
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Another suggested use of the infoscope is in conjunction with "virtual Post-Its", notes left by other infoscope users and "tagged" to various buildings, objects, or locations. A central server could maintain updated archives of virtual post-its and their respective locations, making them available upon demand to other infoscope users, who could add their own comments. In this way, a rich tapestry of real/virtual world interaction could be achieved, blending the distinction between the two. Eventually, even human beings might be tagged with virtual post-its, making it difficult for people to escape poor reputations, and allowing them to reap more benefits from positive reputations.