Arthur C. Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, memorably noted that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." If carrying around the equivalent of all of the world's libraries on the smartphone in your pocket isn't enough to give you that abracadabra feeling, consider this latest geek dream made real: a new iPhone app called Word Lens.
Word Lens offers instantaneous translation of signs, menus, or labels. Point your phone's camera at the words you want to read and watch as the translated text appears onscreen with font, formatting, and context perfectly preserved.
The app works only from English to Spanish and vice versa right now, but other languages are in the works. Perhaps most magical of all, instantaneous translation—that hallowed dream of science fiction writers, diplomats, and frustrated college students on their semesters abroad—costs just $9.99. —Katherine Mangu-Ward