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From Babel to Star Trek: The Quest for Translation


By Katharine Allen & Barry S. Olsen


Published: 05 August 2013


From The California Report...


Article Excerpt: “Conversing with Klingons may be a piece of cake in the Star Trek universe, but here on earth, language translation apps still have a long way to go.

“In the race to improve machine language translation, two Silicon Valley teams, at Google and SRI International, are making good progress, but will they ever get close to the holy grail: translations as accurate and reliable as multilingual humans?

“At the Google Headquarters in Silicon Valley, a team has been working since 2001 on Google Translate, software that aims to translate the entire world’s information. Senior communications associate Roya Soleimani demonstrates how she can access web pages in over 70 languages with the click of a mouse. She can also get instant translations on her smart phone of text, speech, and even photos that she’s taken (on her phone) of menus and street signs.”


Link to full news story here


InterpretAmerica’s take: There has been a small online media blitz recently about Google’s purportedly “almost perfect” simultaneous translation capability. If translators and interpreters were to take the headlines at face value, we’d all be looking for new jobs and language barriers would be a thing of the past. However, the hype soon fades away and professional translators and interpreters keep on helping the world communicate. It may not be glamorous or make for a catchy headline, but human communication is still best left to humans, with the help of technology, of course.

One part, in particular, of this story by the California Report caught our eye. That is Google’s own admission that “there’s not one linguist on Google’s core team: they’re all engineers or statisticians.” That’s a little like asking a team of linguists to build a calculator. As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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