Friday, December 28, 2012

Google Translate, Digitization and "What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web?"

Jaron LanierSmithsonian Magazine has an interesting article about Jaron Lanier, who is a computer scientist, inventor, author, and speaker.  He was a pioneer in the field of virtual reality.  Lanier helped to create the web as we know it today, yet in the last decade he has turned against what the Internet has become.  This is a fascinating article, even if you don't believe his point of view.  One of the things he discusses is how the Internet has changed our economy and he uses Google Translate as an example.  Google Translate is fueled - we can assume - by digitized and born digital texts.  Lanier said:
But there’s another way to look at it, which is the technically true way: You gather a ton of information from real live translators who have translated phrases, just an enormous body, and then when your example comes in, you search through that to find similar passages and you create a collage of previous translations.
The word "collage" stands out to me.  A collage version of a photograph is different. It may evoke different emotions and meanings.  It may tell a different story.  Pulling together different pieces of translated text from digital works may leave the reader with the wrong impression.  It may be close to what a human translator would say, but it is not the same.

If you had asked me 20 years ago if digitization would lead to fuzzy translations, I would have said "no" and I would have been wrong.  

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