Thursday, June 30, 2011

Machine Translated Information Wants To Be Free (Professional Translation Doesn’t)

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time.
So you have these two fighting against each other.
—Stewart Brand (quoted by Roger Clarke)

The main challenge facing a professional translator is to escape the perception that the service she provides is a commodity. Or, to state it more clearly, escape clients who perceive translation as a commodity. From anyone who has the perception that any bilingual can do that just as well. That a computer can also do the job pretty much just as well. Or that crowdsourcing or outsourcing are credible alternatives.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Financial Translator's Bookshelf: How 2 Be a Frielance Transalator (Thorugh not a Very Goode Proof-reader)

We live in a world in which the amount of information is expanding exponentially. Or at least that is what our translationl10n pundits tell us. We are also told that this Content Big Bang overwhelms the current capacity of the translation industry. 

I, for one, keep harping on the counterpoint. For one thing, the idea that more content necessarily requires more translation is a non sequitur if ever I saw one. Just because a piece of text exists doesn’t mean it has to be translated into a gazillion languages. Ah, the McLocalization theorists tell us, but think about the benefit to humanity of increased communication. Call me a skeptic (yes, please call me a skeptic), but an increase in the amount of garbage communicated into other languages will benefit humanity how, exactly?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Isaac Newton Versus Alan Moore, or Is Wikipedia Written by Obsessive Geeks?

In traditional encyclopedias, the size of the entry is proportional to the editors’ estimate of the subject’s importance. Flash forward to Wikipedia. The hive mind of the Crowd decides these hierarchies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Ray Kurzweil Predicts the Arrival of Human-Level Computer Translation By 2029

When people stop believing in God, they don't believe
in nothing -- they believe in anything.
—G.K. Chesterton

I read this interview with futurist Ray Kurzweil about translation last week. It contained the following statement: “According to Kurzweil, machines will reach human levels of translation quality by the year 2029.”

I confess I burst out laughing. Not at the prediction itself. I guess computers might be able to do that by then. What made me laugh is the inane precision of the date.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

AOL’s Contribution to the Crap Content Tsunami

On Sunday morning I read a fascinating article in the Faster Times by a writer called Oliver Miller, a former employee of AOL who was paid $35,000 a year to pump out blurbs on television episodes for the company’s web portal. The piece provides a fascinating glimpse into one (sadly frequent) approach toward the Internet by some corporates: emphasizing quantity over quality and speed over relevance.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Computers Won’t Replace Human Translators (and That’s Exactly the Problem)

Jean Harlow: I was reading a book the other day…
Older woman: (startled) Reading a book!
Harlow: Yes. Do you know that the guy said that machinery
is going to take the place of every profession?
Older woman: (looks at Harlow’s body) Oh, my dear, that's
something you need never worry about.
Dinner at Eight (1933)

In a conversation with any random McLocalization expert, the apex of condescension is inevitably reached when the tech spokesperson warmly assures the linguist that he doesn’t “think computers will replace translators.” At this point, I guess the tech-skeptical translator is supposed to get down on his knees and exclaim: “Hallelujah! Lawdy, Lawdy! Massah so good to me! I’se never gwine leave Massah!”

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The TV Industry as an Analogy for Translation

A decade ago, in the wake of phenomena such as low-budget box office smash The Blair Witch Project, business “visionaries” assured us that material produced by studios employing thousands of professionals would be eclipsed by user-generated content. You know, cats playing pianos, skateboarders banging their family jewels against hand rails, fat kids doing Sith warlord routines. Classic stuff. You know, the kind of stuff that inspired people such as Sergei Eisenstein and Stanley Kubrick. 

This, in turn, meant that the digital natives would watch most of their TV (or, to be more precise, video content) online.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stephen Fry Highlights the Human Element in Twitter on “The Infinite Monkey Cage”

I joined Twitter in November 2008 to seek out tweets about the Mumbai terror attacks. I found some, but I didn’t really get the point of the service, and my account lay fallow until last year, when I noticed incoming links to this blog from Twitter. And then I started to get it more and more. I guess my main goal for using Twitter is 1) to promote what I write on this blog, 2) network with other translators and 3) keep up with interesting non-translators. There is a lot of advice now about being professional on Twitter and using it to get clients. I confess I haven’t found a single client using Twitter, although some professional contacts have been made. My approach to Twitter is half professional and half social: I don’t expect to find clients, but if any eventually happen to come along that way, so much the better. It is a way for me of being open to positive black swans, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would recommend.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Seven Similarities Between the Machine Translation Crowd and a Religious Sect

1.- Both fervently await a significant event that is in the future, but constantly deferred (the Second Coming, the Rapture, alien invasions, the day when machine translation [MT] is actually useful).

2.- Both gather periodically at ritual events to recite incantatory nonsense (covens, black masses, localization conferences).

3.- Both demand that you renounce all your worldly possessions in favor of a fuzzy afterlife no one has ever seen (Heaven, Paradise and the 72 virgins, well-paid post-editing).

Monday, June 13, 2011

Redefining Quality in the “Translation” Industry: A Response to Jost’s Comment

A reader called Jost left the following comment on “The Hamster Who Translated 10,000 Words a Day (and Other Urban Legends)”:

I read your blog post earlier this afternoon and I've been thinking about it since. I think we need to be careful not to be too dismissive of each other's work. Our "industry" is made up of a lot of different kinds of jobs and interests and, I'm going to say it: quality standards. And someone who prepares text for mere usefulness rather than other quality criteria can still have a happy life. Jost

I am thankful that the comment was made because it allows me to write about a subject that had been rattling around in my brain for several months. The thing is that Jost zeroed in on the crux of the problem: “Our ‘industry’ is made up of a lot of different kinds of jobs and interests and, I'm going to say it: quality standards.” The issue, then, is quality and recent attempts to redefine it in order to create a more inclusive concept of the translation business, one that comprises both the hamsters and the non-hamsters.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Why the MT Crowd Insists That Translation Prices Are Falling

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
Bene Gesserit Litany against fear

Because it is a necessary component of the GMN (Grand McLocalization Narrative).

Because it is a selling point designed to shift paid MT systems that are just slightly better than freely available tools.

Because, to inflate a bubble, you have to create anxiety.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Fragmentation in the Translation Industry, or Why There Aren’t Any L10N Billionaires

Kilgore: Someday this war's gonna end...
Apocalypse Now

I finally got around to taking a look at the press release announcing Common Sense Advisory’s ranking of the top 50 T&I agencies. I am not going to read the full report because it is $495 and pffft... with that I can buy about 30 books, or pretty much the entire Western canon.

However, a cursory inspection of the short executive summary provides two interesting takeaways:

1.- Fragmentation. The top five McLocalization companies by revenue are:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Is Machine Translation Killing the Internet? Google Plays Peekaboo With its Translate API

El universo (que otros llaman la Biblioteca)…
Jorge Luis Borges, “La biblioteca de Babel”

This weekend, Google made a major flip-flop on its decision to pull the plug on the Translate API. Everyone and his dog in the MT Crowd by now have weighed in on the original bit of news: Google decided to withdraw access to its Translate API: “The Google Translate API has been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011.” And then on Friday, June 3, the company backtracked after the pack of software developers, who want their content to altruistically reach all of humanity but aren’t really willing to actually pay (!) for it, began to howl like a pack of vampires being sprinkled with holy water:
UPDATE June 3: In the days since we announced the deprecation of the Translate API, we’ve seen the passion and interest expressed by so many of you, through comments here (believe me, we read every one of them) and elsewhere. I’m happy to share that we’re working hard to address your concerns, and will be releasing an updated plan to offer a paid version of the Translate API.
As many blogging heads have pointed out, this does not mean that Google Translate or Google Translator Toolkit are being withdrawn. Google is simply cutting off access to website developers who link up to the Google machine translation (MT) capability for free. Trados Studio, for example, had a plug-in for anyone wishing to use Google’s engine through the Trados interface. SDL now has to decide whether to pay for continuing to provide that feature or look for an alternative.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Google Chokes on McLocalization’s Perpetual Garbage Creation Machine

(Of course, there would be a cost to Google for the Biblical amounts of resources I have wasted on my little antisocial effort, but that is irrelevant for this thought experiment. Let us further assume that Google can’t track me down even with those Google Maps cars that go around the world with little cameras on them.)

(I go AWOL with a new identity and end up eating Fritos while watching Sopranos re-runs in some fleabag motel.)

It turns out, apparently, that the McLocalization Brigade was busy doing this exact same thing on an even more massive scale. To the point that they were putting a considerable strain on Google’s infrastructure.