Babelfish, Machine Translation, and Google
Machine translation, or using some kind of technology to translate between languages, has long been a dream of translators all over the world. Imagine if you could instantly translate documents into multiple languages … or even better, if you could get a real-time translation of a conversation that would help you communicate with people who don’t speak your language.
In fact, the late author Douglas Adams – who wrote the book that has recently been released as the movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – invented the idea of the “babelfish.” The babelfish was a little fish that you would put in your ear and would automatically translate everything you heard into a language that you understood.
Well, that’s the dream.
The search engine Altavista took that idea and named their translation engine Babelfish. (Babelfish is supposed to translate between 20 or so languages, but anyone who has actually used the service realizes that it leave quite a bit to be desired. In other words, it doesn’t work well.)
Now Google is trying translation. I was intrigued by the stories, so I decided to try it – and so can you. For instance, search for “japanese bloggers”. The third link down is at least partially in Japanese, so it has a little translate link next to it:
Unfortunately, the results are disappointing. Very disappointing. For instance this paragraph cannot be anything like what the original writer intended:
The blog tool which presently has been utilized is the blogger, but to being the veteran business, being the major company, in Japan the user is not happened to see excessively. The cgi Lu in Stowe must be done in the server, although degree of freedom of installation is higher than the movable tpye, degree of freedom of customization is the high sense of ideal tool still, is.
I don’t know if you can make sense out of that, but it’s all Greek to me.
The reality is that given the complexity of language and the variety of human experience, learning a language deeply and intensely is, and will remain, the best way to understand and communicate with other people around the world.