The way I see it, if computers can now play a credible world-class game of chess, then they should be able to translate complex sentences written in the world's major languages.
They should be able to translate to and from English, to and from French, and to and from Russian.
I eventually expect a translation to and from Chinese and Japanese, too. Exactly what's the hangup?
We have the computing power to make this work, so why don't governments all demand it? Throw $10 billion at the problem, and I bet it is resolved sooner rather than later. $10 billion is less than the cost of one month of the Iraq war, just for comparison.
My French has been in decline since 1973, but I sure know enough to find machine French-to-English translations to be an abomination.
For example, with rare exceptions, if you go to a wine site to find out about the latest conditions in Bordeaux, these systems will invariably translate the word chateau as "castle," despite the fact that Americans (and most English-speaking nations) use the word "chateau" as such.
And, in fact, it is always used when referring to a Bordeaux winery such as Chateau Margaux. That's the name of the place.
For some unknown reason, no translation system can understand this simple fact.
Is this rocket science? It's not the Castle of Margaux or Margaux Castle. How hard is this?
It gets even worse if the name of the place itself can be translated. Chateau Latour comes back as the Tower Castle or Castle Tower.
What good is it to read that "In big news this week Castle Tower was sold to French investors?" Wha? Huh?
This is just one example, but to me, since it is so obvious and brain-dead, it epitomizes the problem. Apparently nobody is really trying very hard. THAT'S the problem.
Let's consider an example from Sudouest, an excellent regional newspaper in France. It has a blog at sudouest.com, and I decided to cut a chunk of text and run it through various systems. Here's the text.
Vous avez essayé d'obtenir une bourse d'étude mais celle-ci, fonction des revenus de vos parents, vous a été refusée. Vous trouvez le cas injuste? Comment cela risque-t-il d'influer sur votre scolarité? Partagez votre expérience sur ce blog en utilisant le lien "Commentaire" ci-dessous.
A reasonable translation is as follows:
You tried to obtain a scholarship, but it was refused because of your parents' income. Did you think this was unfair? Tell us how you think it would affect your schooling and tell us your experiences by adding a comment to the blog. Click on the comment button below.
Here are the various results from the online translation systems:
Babelfish: You tried to obtain a grant but this one, function of the incomes of your parents, was refused to you. You find the case unjust? How that is it likely to influence your schooling? Share your experiment on this blog by using the bond "Comment" below.
Grade: D. That should be experience, NOT experiment. And bond should be link or button. Grammar screwed up.
Freetranslation.com: You tried to obtain a study stock market but this one, function of the income of your parents, you was refused. You find the unfair case? How that does it risk influencing on your schooling? Divide your experience on this blog while using the link "Commentary" here-under.
Grade: F. Just horrible — and wrong! (The site offered a human translation of these few sentences for $50.)
PROMT-Online: You tried to acquire a grant but this one, function of the incomes of your parents, was refused you. You find unfair case? How does it risk having an influence on your schooling? Share your experience on this blog by using link "Comment" below.
Grade: B. You can actually make sense of this. It's the clear winner here.
WorldLingo: You tried to obtain a grant but this one, function of the incomes of your parents, you was refused. You find the case unjust? How that is it likely to influence your schooling? Share your experiment on this blog by using the bond "Comment" below.
Grade D: Similar errors to the Babelfish translation with additional errors. What does it take to use the proper noun "were" instead of "was?" You was? Please.
The computer revolution began a half-century ago. We should have been able to solve this problem by now. What we need is government resolve, because private industry can't seem to manage it.