It might seem like the furthest reaches of the sci-fi brain of Philip K. Dick, but it’s within reach, and perhaps even more advanced than the scenes of Tom Cruise conjuring up computer data by waving his hands about in front of him.

“Soon we will not stare at mobile phones in our hands; that information will appear in front of our eyes from tiny eyepieces,” explains Dave Sayers, chair of the Language in the Human-Machine Era (LITHME) group of researchers from 52 universities, including UCLouvain in Belgium.

“Combined with new intelligent earpieces, we will see and hear extra information about the world around us: basic stuff like travel directions, and more advanced content like auto-translations of people speaking other languages. Our own words will be amplified, clarified, translated and subtitled as we speak; and other people will see and hear that in their eye and ear tech.”

It may sound far-fetched, but some of us can remember a time when if you wanted to make a phone call you had to find a phone box and have some coins to hand, or wait to get home. Now every school child is walking around with a personal telephone which is also a small but powerful computer.

If you say it out loud to yourself, you’ll realise how crazy that idea would have sounded not that long ago.

“LITHME brings together people from different disciplines in language work who would normally not speak to each other,” said deputy chair Sviatlana Höhn.

“We see the first results of this exchange of ideas in our forecast report: we were able to collect a variety of opinions and facts into one document produced by researchers who would otherwise never work together on one publication. It helps us to learn from each other, from other communities.”

The report, The Dawn of the Machine-Human Era (PDF), includes contributions from the various partners involved in the project, covering topics from sign languages to automated legal reasoning – which brings us back to Minority Report.

“These technologies will bring us a lot of linguistic support, and they will also force us to ask ourselves essential questions about the deeply human aspects which cannot be assigned to technologies alone,” said Fanny Meunier of UCLouvain.

Brusselstimes