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"It's also important to vary your stimuli. I always look for new things to shock the system. Just as you make muscles grow by shocking them, you make the mind grow by shocking it."
- Bart Kosko

Translator Discs  
  Wearable devices that wirelessly connected to a speech translation computer.  

Niven provides a realistic version of a universal translator in Ringworld.

"Stay on your vehicles," Speaker ordered in a low voice. "Wait until they reach us. Then dismount. I assume we are all wearing our communicator discs?"

Louis wore his inside his left wrist. The discs were linked to the autopilot aboard the Liar. They should work over such a distance, and the Liar's autopilot should be able to translate any new language...

The tattooed one made a short speech. That was luck. The autopilot would need data before it could begin a translation...

Presently the discs were filling in words and phrases... His voice was almost a chant, almost a recital of poetry. The autopilot was translating Louis's words into a similar chant, though it spoke to Louis in a conversational tone. Louis could hear the other translator discs whistling softly in Puppeteer, snarling quietly in the Hero's Tongue.

From Ringworld, by Larry Niven.
Published by Ballantine in 1970
Additional resources -

Rather than just presenting a magical device, Niven makes sure you know that interpreting speech is a processor intensive task, and might be best done centrally. Also, he notes that the machine needs a good-sized sample before translation is possible.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Ringworld
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven
  Tech news articles related to Ringworld
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven

Translator Discs-related news articles:
  - NEC Translator Cellphone Turns Japanese To English
  - Universal Translator, Babelfish Possible
  - Dolphin Whistle Translator

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