Those in the translation industry have long laughed at machine translation and its incorrect wording, awkward sentence choice, etc., so when Google Enterprise product manager Cyrus Mistry proclaimed that the new Google Translate would be “analogous to giving every employee in a business 34 translators sitting at their desk and translating everything they want to look for within a 10th of a second,” professional translators the world over spit their collective coffee onto their computer screens.
With the shortcomings of computer translation programs like Babelfish and Promt no secret within the industry and, to some extent, in the general public, Google’s bold claim seemed outlandish. Google Translate however, is based on statistical analysis, a radical departure from the traditional “rules-based” approach to machine translation. Starting with over twenty billion words in seven languages (from official United Nations documents), Google Translate solicited contributions of human-translated documents in other languages to add into its database. What truly sets this program apart however, as more bilingual text is entered into the program, the results of the statistical analysis, and therefore the translations, become that much more accurate. By cross analyzing the new sources with the old, it is essentially improving its own translations.
Rather than write a scathing critique on how translation will always be an art form done by humans or wave a white flag and start looking at careers on monster.com, I will leave you with a few lines from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, its translation by Google Translate into Spanish, and the back translation into English.
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
En la larga historia del mundo, sólo unas pocas generaciones se han concedido el papel de defensa de la libertad en su hora de máximo peligro. Yo no rehuir esta responsabilidad-que acojo con satisfacción. No creo que ninguno de nosotros sería el intercambio de lugares con cualquier otro pueblo o cualquier otra generación. La energía, la fe, la devoción que aportan a este esfuerzo se iluminará nuestro país y todos los que sirven y que el resplandor del fuego que puede verdaderamente la luz del mundo.
Back Translation into English
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I will not shirk this responsibility, which I welcome. I do not think any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. Energy, the faith, the devotion they bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who served and that the glow from that fire can truly light the world.