Thoughts on Translation: Rise of the Planet of the Machines

It doesn’t look like monkeys will take over the world anytime soon, despite what the movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, says. However, machines are already taking over the world. We are so reliant on technology now, that without it, very few of us are able to actually function.

I recently started working with an organization on reviewing machine translation of texts. Rather than translating, I see it more as editing or correcting, but that’s not the point. It’s been fun and entertaining, and it has also convinced me that machines still have a long way to go.

We see mistranslated machine translations all over the internet and share the hilarity of some of these incorrect translations with our friends among our social-networking tools. I never thought much about the errors but wondered why people or institutions are fine with putting their reputation at stake, using shoddy translation tools (and not having a human review the translation for accuracy) that they should know fully well is not consistently accurate

True, our programmers are teaching machines vocabulary and grammar, and teaching them to make word choices based on surrounding text, but it is still not enough. Machine translations are often ridiculous because cultural nuances are not built in their system, they don’t know that one word can mean another in different contexts, and sometimes they’re not flexible about moving text around for better syntax.

I enjoy reading 「humorous」 machine-translated text, and I’m glad that we have yet to perfect this technology. Because until we program machines to produce completely accurate translations, I’ll have a job.

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