Sunday, September 13, 2009

Automatic translation

As some of you may know, computer folks are hotly at work in the area of artificial intelligence, a higher order of computing which seeks to replicate the functioning of the human brain (or at least some human brains). An instance of this is automatic translation.
Automatic translation has existed for some time, but no matter what anyone tells you, it is at present in no position to completely replace homo sapiens, with all his faults. Although things have definitely improved, we have far to go to achieve this goal.

Let's take a look at Google Automatic Translation's rendering of the recent Serena Williams outburst on the court, where Serena lost her serenity and threatened the line judge with a ball and/or racket down the ole throat.

Italian original from the Corriere della Sera.

Allarmata, la Williams si è avvicinata ai tre giudici tentando di giustificarsi. «Scusate, ma c'è chi ha detto cose molto peggiori», ha detto la statunitense, che subito dopo, ascoltando la versione della giudice di linea, ha negato di averla minacciata di morte: «Non ho detto che ti ucciderei. Dici sul serio? Non l'ho detto!», si è difesa la statunitense, a cui la giudice di linea ha risposto in maniera eloquente, un cenno del capo e due «sì» che hanno indotto il giudice di sedia ad assegnare un punto di penalità costato la sconfitta alla beniamina del pubblico di New York. Successivamente in conferenza stampa la Williams non ha riposto alle domande di chi le chiedeva chiarezza sull'accaduto: «Cosa ho detto? Non avete sentito? Non ho mai fatto a pugni in tutta la mia vita, quindi non so perché lei si sia sentita minacciata»

And Google's translation.

Alarmed, Williams approached the three judges trying to justify himself. "Excuse me, but some have said things much worse," said the American, who after listening to the version of the line judge, denied having threatened with death: "I never said we will kill you. Are you serious? I've told you, "he defended the U.S., which the linesman said so eloquently, a nod, and two" yes "that led the court to assign a chair to point penalty cost the defeat the darling of audiences in New York. Later in the press conference, Williams has put the question of when asked about the incident clearly, "What did I say? Have not you heard? I've never done a fistfight in my entire life, so do not know why she has felt threatened.

Now, you may understand what happened if you already know about the incident, but otherwise you would have a hard time. There are errors big and small. Some are incomprehensible: "si e' difesa la statunitense" (the American woman defended herself) is given as "he defended the U.S."

So, automatic translation may be somewhat useful if you really need to have some idea of the gist of a text; but even then, it cannot be relied on, and may have seriously misleading errors. Many translations are worse than this, and are positively comical.

If you want to try Google's automatic translation feature, go here.