Why We Are Still Decades Away From Quality Automated Translation Software

While the day will come when the human translator will be replaced by computer technology, we are still decades away from seeing reliable technology that provides excellent results.  This blog entry attempts to explain the limitations with today’s technology an why it will take years to see the type of technology that is needed to provide quality language translations.

The Computer’s Limits

Although computers can process and move information rapidly (sometimes at the speed of light), computers are passive electronic machines awaiting human commands. As one Houston Translation Services worker points out, if a computer fails to understand the particular word or command, it will not work. If it receives an incorrect command, it will work incorrectly. Likewise, integrated software, currently available language translation software, word processors, e-mail systems, tele-conferencing equipment, and all other computerized devices used to speed the flow of information in the automated office (see boxes) cannot convert poor writing to good. Anyone with programming experience knows that instructions to a computer demand the same precise phrasing, logical organization, and exact punctuation required of any good letter, memo, or report. Otherwise, the message will not be understood by the recipient -machine or human.

The Tower of Babel

The Bible tells us that when Noah’s descendants began building a tower that would reach to the heavens, the Lord punished their presumption by making them speak different languages. Unable to communicate (hence the term babel) and thus work cooperatively, the people were prevented from completing the tower. While Washington D.C. translation services workers applaud the technological advances that allow us to process and send information at the speed of light, we must be wary of creating our own Tower of Babel. Communicating faster does not necessarily mean we are communicating better or more efficiently. Nor does getting more information mean we can do better work; we might simply get buried in needless information.

Certainly, a word processor allows us to send individualized form letters and to edit and revise rapidly. Likewise, electronic mail ensures that we won’t have to waste time playing “phone tag” and that our message will be received. But as most New York City Italian translation workers are aware, faster, more efficient means of communicating do not necessarily equate with clear, concise communication. Think about this supervisor’s message sent by e-mail to all international division leaders in a big corporation.

Right now, we are currently waiting for an evaluation by IT representatives concerning the energy consumption modifications needed for the new information system set up. In the meantime, all employees are expected to honor the off-limits designation of the site, as requested, because of liability insurance terms regarding the IT system and the way it influences our utilization.

All division leaders received the message in their Microsoft Outlook e-mail inboxes within three seconds after the supervisor wrote it. Eight messages were sent back to the manager asking for clarification. Translation:

The computer reps soon will inspect our new computer room to advise us about wiring it. The room is off limits until the computer is installed because our insurance policy doesn’t fully cover the computer until it becomes operational.

Moral: No amount of automation can help such gibberish. The manager should have revised until his meaning was clear. Unclear communication wastes time and money for both receiver and sender.