BBC debate demonstrates power of real time machine translation

MT is in the news. On 4th March, The Economist published a review of what the web might feel like without linguistic barriers. “Cyber-multilinguism” is increasingly a reflection of the world we live in. A few days later (9th March) The New York Times run a comparison of machine translated texts from French, Spanish, Russian, German and Arabic into English and the quality obtained from several engines. The texts dealt with works of literature, which may well have been in the training material of the engines, but it also dealt with current affairs and news clips. Google presented a cell phone link to MT. Last week, the BBC conducted a new experiment to test how people and the media can make use and really broaden the horizons by using MT, even if only a in a very generalist way. MT users seemed happy with 80%-90% accuracy.

A couple of findings I thought were particularly good to note for those of you who are still not too sure on the relevance or benefit of machine translation:

a. When you say: It’s not going to be 100% perfect all of the time
“It’s about trying to get the message across… [users] are happy with 80-90% effectiveness”,
Chewy Trewhella – New Business Development Manager for Google.

b. When you think: This is the death of the translator, will there be a need for human translation?
“It may be the translator becomes more of an editor”,
Geoffrey Bowden – General Secretary of the Association of Translation Companies (ATC)

The subject of the experiment was what would happen if everybody in the world could communicate freely with each other, no matter which language they spoke? It formed the basis for SuperPower Nation Day – an experiment in multilingual debate and discussion.

By using a specially created website, users from around the world could post and reply to each other’s messages, even if they did not share the same language.SuperPower Nation Room at BBC

The experiment was part of the BBC’s SuperPower season, a series of programs, online reports and events designed to examine the extraordinary power of the internet.

Representatives from more than 20 of the BBC World Service language services translated for people who attended the six-hour event at Shoreditch town hall, or called in by telephone.

[original posting from BBC site]

Next time you think languages, think Pangeanic
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