Sunday, April 25, 2010

Translation and Software Localization Blog: Quartz or Mechanical?

The first quartz watch was introduced in 1969 promising more accurate and less costly ways to produce watches. Shortly after, the higher frequency crystal used in quartz technology allowed for a few seconds per month inaccuracy versus the few seconds per day of the best mechanical watches. Electronic parts were also much cheaper to produce than finely-tuned, hand crafted mechanical parts.

By the 80s, quartz watches overtook the watch-making industry prompting many experts to predict the end of the hand-made mechanical watch.

Similarly, in the 1950s and 60s, work began on developing computerized machine translation engines. Initial results looked promising prompting many to predict the near end of human translators. After all, if a 5 year old kid can speak multiple languages and interpret them, sophisticated computers can sure do the same.

Half a century later, with phenomenal advances in computing technologies, software and mathematical algorithms, the best machine translation engines still cannot surpass human translation accuracy. They don’t even come close! Yet many pundits continue to predicting the demise of the translator and the translation industry!

Yes machine translation technology has advanced and yes some solutions produce the gist of the meaning via rudimentary and often laughable translations. But what most forget is that often consumers are not just interested in getting the meaning. We are interested in the overall experience!

To prove my point, take an online book in a foreign language in a subject that you care much about and run it by the best machine translation engine and let me know if you do take the time to read and enjoy it. My guess is that you will put it down after only reading the first few pages. Style, elegance, harmony, character, personality, spirit, soul, vitality and passion will continue to matter as long as human beings do the reading! Do you think a machine will ever be able to capture or depict that like humans can?

Despite the huge success of the quartz watch and its hands-down more precise performance, today most Swiss hand-made mechanical watch makers still flourish. I own three mechanical watches and only one quartz watch. I wear my mechanical watches everywhere except when I am engaged in sports activities−and that is mainly to protect them!

Posted via web from amsall's posterous

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