Google Translates

Google’s translating skill leads the New York Times technology section today. The essence of a remarkable article by Miguel Helft:

Creating a translation machine has long been seen as one of the toughest challenges in artificial intelligence. For decades, computer scientists tried using a rules-based approach — teaching the computer the linguistic rules of two languages and giving it the necessary dictionaries.

But in the mid-1990s, researchers began favoring a so-called statistical approach. They found that if they fed the computer thousands or millions of passages and their human-generated translations, it could learn to make accurate guesses about how to translate new texts.

It turns out that this technique, which requires huge amounts of data and lots of computing horsepower, is right up Google’s alley.

Over on the Times’ Bits Blog, Helft interviews a Maori scholar who believes the technology may help to save his and other dying languages.

Google Translate is now working in 52 languages, and “the company recently released the toolkit in 345 languages, from Abkhazian to Zulu,” Helft writes.

I pasted a favorite Russian poem, “Parus” by Mikhail Lermontov, in the translator and got a B-/C+ literal translation with no soul.

To my surprise, below the translation, appears a request: “Contribute a better translation." And so I did. Not something I was planning to do when I picked up my Times this morning.

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