Babel 'Fish'
Babel fish
Image from Steve Bowers
A genetically engineered computer designed to fit into or around the ear of a modosophont. As well as translation duties the Babel 'Fish' can act as an information provider and cultural guide. These neogen organisms are named after a mythical device described by the Information Age Fabulist Douglas Adams, but differ in several important respects. Perhaps the most important difference from Adams' concept is the fact that the 'fish' contains very few actual fish genes, as its genome is almost completely artificial. The genome does include a small amount of genome from the Hirudinea subclass of annelids, however.

The Babel 'Fish' has audio, limited visual, and UMB radio. Unlike Adam's fish this biodevice must be supplied periodically with food to power its internal mitocondrial batteries; feeding usually takes place in a water-filled 'bowl' or any handy receptacle. Instead of 'telepathy' the Babel 'Fish' communicates information to the "wearer" by sound. These creatures act as communication interfaces in the same way that the commonplace Direct Neural Interface does, but the Babel 'Fish' is noninvasive, and is preferred by many modosophonts for that reason. Many users regard the Babel 'Fish' as more fun than DNI, and they are popular choices amongst those traveling for pleasure or in regions where DNI protocols are different to their own devices.

A Babel 'Fish' can be configured to act as a tour guide and cultural interpreter. The gengineer(s) who designed the 'Fish' deliberately incorporated a "galaxy guide" theme, to be consistent with the work of fiction that inspired the concept. Much of the information the Babel 'Fish' dispenses is downloaded on the fly from the local version of the Encyclopaedia Galactica.

Babel 'Fish' reproduce naturally, but only in their artificial "fishbowl" environment. They cannot survive in the wild, but can breathe air for an indefinite period. When at home it its bowl, the babel is "happy" and will play like a cartoon fish. However when the user wants to use it, the babel will swim into the hand (or whatever appendage is used).

Babels tend to recognize their owners, and can be taught to avoid others (albeit rather clumsily). They can be trained like a small animal, but can also be hacked through the radio transceiver.

An advanced linguistic translator is built into the Babel 'Fish's neurons. Although most modosophonts in the Civilized Galaxy speak in universal protocols, there are still many who do not, such as Hiders and many Outer Volumes clades.

Many languages in the Civilized Galaxy are derived from earlier terragen biont and ai languages, and the Babel 'Fish' has most of these stored in its memory. If it encounters a variant, it will attempt to learn the syntax. The Babel 'Fish' is given feedback from its wearer in the form of speech. Phrases such as "could you repeat that?" and "huh?" are used. Each babel also contains a simple ultrawide band transmitter to exchange data with other 'Fish' and with the local Datasphere. Babels routinely exchange language syntax and vocabulary to increase their translation skills. If a babel is having difficulty learning the language, it may prompt the wearer to give it, or another babel, to a native speaker for a while.

The original Babel 'Fish' only provided audio translation services, but more recent modifications can provide wireless data transfer from many sources. However the 'Fish' have a limited repertoire because of their small size.

Some babel modifications that have become popular:

* UWB listening device
* voice controlled computer/datebook/calculator/ etc.
* Voice activated Known Net browser
* cell phone/pager
* alarm/motion sensor (the 'Fish' is provided with eyes or other sensors)
* sonar echo locator (audio range, but low DB only)
* extra playful babel does backflips through hoops and syncronized swimming
* language training; the 'Fish' will teach the user how to speak the language for emself.

Neogen biocomputer translation/helper devices exist in many in other forms. Animal or bird companions (real, extinct, mythical or neogenic) that ride in the hair or on the shoulder, a piece of biogenic jewelry or flowers wrapped around the ear and hair. Sometimes floating vacuum dirigble biobots or a blob of party colored nanogoo. Designs differ greatly from region to region and among manufacturers and with personal taste.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Sethbord
Pran Mukerjee, Todd Drashner and Steve Bowers
Initially published on 31 December 2007.