Translate This: Google's Quest to End the Language Barrier


By Katharine Allen & Barry S. Olsen

Published: 27 September 2013


From Spiegel Online...


Article Excerpt: When science-fiction writers envision the future of mankind, a number of ideas for improving the world repeatedly pop up. They include free, unlimited energy and spaceships traveling at the speed of light. And they include the creation of miniature computers that serve as universal translators, eliminating all language barriers. The last of these dreams, at least, is something Google intends to make a reality. The man in charge of the project is a computer scientist from a small village near Erlangen, in southwestern Germany.


...[Google Translate's] team, headquartered at Google's main campus in Silicon Valley, has grown considerably. It includes several German computer scientists, but not a single linguist. Och himself isn't exactly a talented linguist, either. On the contrary, he says, "I have trouble learning languages, and that's precisely the beauty of machine translation: The most important thing is to be good at math and statistics, and to be able to program."


Link to the full story here.

InterpretAmerica's Take: The mobile revolution has effectively wiped out geographic barriers to communication between far-flung points around the globe, and the skyrocketing global demand for instant communication is a clear result. But global communication requires more than people having easy, affordable access to each other through mobile apps; language barriers must also be overcome. Google saw this need and potential early on and has been working on perfecting Google Translate ever since. Now it is layering on voice recognition to its machine translation service so that we can talk to our phone in one language and have it speak to the listener seamlessly in another. This article provides history, context and the faces behind Google Translate, not one of which is a linguist. Seem impossible? Read on! At InterpretAmerica, our goal is to one day soon help our industry gain the visibility and recognition needed so that it will be unthinkable NOT to have a linguist on Google Translate's team. One step toward that will be Co-President Barry Olsen's upcoming talk at the TAUS Conference in Portland, OR, where he can take our message of the essential importance of having human translation and interpreting as part of global multilingual communications directly to the most powerful players in machine automation and translation.

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