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.

It is therefore a humongously amusing irony (for slightly skewed minds like mine) that machine translation suffers much more than its human counterpart from the commoditization problem. Ever since the advent of the Internet, BabelFish and similar services have simply accustomed the individual consumer to the idea that automatic translation is a freebie. The ubiquity of Google Translate has only hammered home that perception. And further additions to the publicly available MT (machine translation) field reinforce that expectation with Pavlovian insistence. Microsoft entered the field with its own free Bing Translation and generally received warm reviews from specialists.

Hold on a second.

Please allow me to repeat that: Microsoft gives away its translation software for free.

Yes, Microsoft—the eight-hundred pound gorilla that thrives on monopolistic rents and has strong-armed, bullied, cajoled and browbeaten millions into paying for something as immaterial as the bits and bytes that make up Windows—refuses to charge anyone a penny for the use of Bing Translator.

Yes, M-I-C-R-O-S-O-F-T, the company that swoops down in Apache helicopters to the tune of Dance of the Valkyries and descends on unsuspecting peasant villages that have a pirated copy of Windows on a ten-year old laptop, erases their hard drives, tramples their shrines to ancestors and burns their crops.

That company gives away its automatic translation software for free.

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Kevin Lossner said...

>> That company gives away its
>> automatic translation software for free.

Yes. Kinda reinforces the obvious value, doesn't it?

Rubén said...

I think MS charges for translation thru API, just like Google. It's only translation on the browser that is free

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Actually, I don't know. You may be right. But, still, even if they do charge for the API, it conflicts with the MSFT business model. For example, they could give away the OS or Office tools for free and only charge for versions of their software used by businesses, but trhat is just not their style, is it?