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Nottingham, England, 6 November 2064. A news broadcast blares out of a TV screen in the Portland Building lobby, except no one hears it, because it's on mute. But the subtitles, generated in real-time to match the news reporter's speech, tell us she is discussing a controversial new proposal from the shadow education secretary that's really blown up in the news lately. This proposal would make university attendance compulsory by 2070.

The University of Nottingham still prides itself as a truly international university, with campuses on four continents. But it’s far from special in this regard. In this day and age, many similar institutions have taken to expanding overseas, thanks to the miracle of universal translation.

Right now a loose group students, a mix of Chinese, British and Brazilian, are milling around, chatting about the usual student things - exams, lectures, coursework, last night's Campus 23 - all in their native tongues. Anyone with a Google Glass or Apple iPatch could join in their conversation.

One of them is not really listening. He loiters towards the back of the group to look at the screen. His iPatch does more than simply translate the subtitles into Mandarin. It plays it directly into his ear. The BBC Cloud offers live audio translations of all its news reporters. It sounds as if she is actually saying it, Native accent and all. And to think, no more than half a century ago, viewers still had to put up with live subtitles that always appeared 10 or 20 seconds out of sync with the broadcast!

The BBC Cloud uses advanced genetic algorithms, adapted from over thirty years of lingual analysis, and two centuries of recorded speech. They are so fast and accurate, they could actually predict what the reporter says ahead of time, in theory at least. They never actually used it for that. Imagine, the BBC could cut out the middleman entirely and get a machine to report on the news. But the viewers wouldn't like that. It would make them uncomfortable. People simply can't accept the idea that the human is unnecessary in the equation. We humans like to feel important.
This was written back in 2014 for a writing prompt at the University of Nottingham's Creative Writing Society. The task was to write about our city 50 years in the future.

I know sci-fi predictions are never supposed to be truly accurate, but not even two years have passed since I wrote this and it's already looking dated. Google Glass is dead, and the trend of Apple products with iNames is coming to a close.

Cover image based on my own photo.

I once did a radio reading of this story, which you can listen to here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty_1GG…
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