Will translators get replaced by computers?

Inside the Internet.
Jan. 9 2006 6:16 AM

The Translator's Blues

Will I get replaced by a computer program?

(Continued from Page 1)

Statistical/cryptographic systems, such as Language Weaver, calculate the probabilities of correspondence by examining parallel texts. They then "learn" these translation patterns and use them to translate similar constructs. But claims of extraordinary accuracy are generally not borne out in tests by professional, human translators.

The holy grail of MT is FAHQT: Fully Automatic, High-Quality Translation. For now, professional and amateur users content themselves with "gisting"—the practice of accepting 80 percent accuracy so as to get a general sense of a text's meaning. (Ninety percent accuracy leaves one error on every line.) Professionals who work with MT always do so in conjunction with human judgment, either by "pre-editing" to limit vocabulary or by "post-editing" to correct errors. In my job, where political sensitivity and nuance are everything, "gisting" would be worse than useless. On the other hand, I often use a dedicated memory-based system to translate treaty names, provisions of international law, and the like because they are directly correspondent and there's no risk of error.


There are plenty of computer scientists who think we don't need to settle for Not Really Automatic, Pretty-Mediocre Translation. Mike Collins of MIT, for one, has high hopes for "machine learning," which bypasses the need to hand-encode software by comparing broad databases of text previously translated by humans. In theory, this will allow the machine translator to learn grammatical rules. With vast oceans of multilingual text now available digitally—Collins cites documents created by the European Parliament—this may indeed be the best hope for MT, though it is probably still a long way from affordable commercial application.

Language Weaver CEO Bryce Benjamin acknowledges that even the best translation software cannot hope to replace human translators; it is simply one tool "to help them to increase productivity and value." That was all I needed to know. The war on terrorism notwithstanding, my job and those of thousands of professional translators in the arts, sciences, and industry seem relatively safe for now. But then again, horses were pretty damn sure of themselves 100 years ago, and look what happened to them.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.