Friday, July 1, 2011

Intellectual Dishonesty and MT Salesmanship

You see why I complain about intellectual dishonesty among the MT Crowd? The following two statements are made by the same person. The first one makes the weak case for MT while talking to a translator. Contrast its pliable humility with the second statement, which makes a rather stronger case about the technology. This type of duplicity is frequent among the peddlers of MT. Obviously, the message is being molded according to the audience:

You are correct in stating that there is a reason for human translation to be slow and expensive and that it is the level of professional skills required in order to be able to deliver a high quality translation. However, there are many scenarios where “fast and somewhat understandable” can be better than “slow but high quality”. Example: Asia Online has a client translating billions of words (10’s of millions of patents) into English from other languages so that they can be searched and found using English search tools. Once the document is identified to be of value, it can then be human translated. In this scenario, the patent document would not have previously been accessible as it was written in a language that was not understood by the person searching. But once it was identified, the professional translator got work that would not have otherwise existed without the use of machine translation first.
Compare it to this statement:

With a combination of machine translation technology with human editors, a quality level of translation output that is the same as a human only approach can be delivered in a fraction of the time and cost. The perception that machine translation is not good enough and it is easier to translate by human from the outset is outdated. It is time to put that idea to rest, since there are now many examples that clearly prove the validity of using machine translation with human editing to deliver high quality results.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. 


Kevin Lossner said...

Now Miguel, to be fair you should point out that the first quote is Kirtee's text, while the following disclaimer appears at the top of the second post: This is a post... by guest writer Dion Wiggins, CEO of Asia Online ( and former Gartner Vice President and Research Director. The opinions and analysis are those of the author alone.

If you want to call this disingenuous, I won't argue the point, but while I consider Dion's position daft at best, the former argument is actually a very consistent position of the author, so I am willing to accept the disclaimer despite some misgivings.

Actually, I rather enjoy the lies from the MT snake oil merchants as well as the gullibility of those who swallow any part of their hook. It's kinda cool to be living in a sort of weird re-run of medieval times as modern philosophers dig around in piles of crap looking for their magical Stone. And just like that old alchemical madness that even sucked in the likes of Newton, apparent intelligence is by no means a guarantee of common sense in this matter.

But hey, some gotta sink and some gotta swim - or better yet, learn to pilot boats or book a cabin on a nice cruise line - and I say let the gullible invest their treasure in all the MT technology they want. Someone has to be crab food. Meanwhile the real translators will enjoy a nice day on the waters, even if they do get choppy at times.

Financial Translator said...

Are you sure? Both guest posts (from which the second statement is taken) are by Dion Wiggins (if I'm reading correctly) and the person who makes the first statement in response to the comment signed by "NoPeanuts" is also identified as Wiggins. If I'm wrong, I will issue a clarification.

Kevin Lossner said...

You're absolutely right, Miguel, my mistake. BOTH are Wiggins. I didn't check the first quote, because it is in fact the position that the blog's owner (Kirtee Vashee) has expressed every time I've heard him address the subject. So I assumed those were his words (and was too lazy to check the link). I remembered the second quote as being from another person, because I was quite annoyed at the obvious nonsense and deception in it.

So it would seem that we do indeed have a latter-day Janus here or at least someone confused about his own thoughts. Sorry for the confusion on my part (and this just reinforces my point about you being right more often ;-)

Anonymous said...

Gentleman - you seem to be missing the point made my Wiggins. There is much content that will never be translated if it is not translated by machine. They types of sentences in the example he provided are very hard to translate and very slow for a human. Take the sentence below:

A method of distilling a polymerizable vinyl compound selected from the group consisting of acrolein, methacrolein, acrylic acid, methacrylec acid, hydroxyethyl acrylate, hydroxyethyl methacrylate, hydroxypropyl acrylate, hydroxypropyl methacrylate, glycidyl acrylate and glycidyl methacrylate, the method comprising distilling the polymerizable vinyl compound in the presence of a polymerization inhibitor using a distillation tower having perforated trays without downcomers and wherein the temperature of the inner wall of the tower is maintained at a temperature sufficient to prevent the condensation of the vapor being distilled, whereby the polymerizable vinyl compound is distilled without the formation of polymer.

By the time I looked up all the terms in a dictionary it would take me about 45 minutes to translate this sentence. Could you translate it into any language any faster? Now multiply that by hundreds of millions of similar sentences. As Wiggins points out, if its translated by machine, then it is available to be re-translated once it is found by searching in a legal database and then it can be translated by human as needed. But without the initial translation by machine this would have never been possible as the person searching would have had to search in a language they don't understand.

Desktop publishing did not put professional publishers out of business - machine translation will not put human translators out of business.

Given the negativity shown towards machine translation in this blog, I expect this post will not be approved. But at least you will have read the point and can carry on your crusade. Perhaps if you put up an argument with supporting logic you may get some traction - but so far all there seems to be is "I don't like MT" or "MT will never work". Perhaps an open mind - ask the MT companies to show some of the success stories perhaps. I for one am now using MT where appropriate and have found that it is definitely a help. It is not a final solution, but it makes my job as a translator more productive and I can increase my income as a result.


patenttranslator said...

I disagree with Tom on several levels.

1. The sentence is relatively simple and thus it is relatively easy to process it with MT. The terminology is not that difficult either, the only thing that I don't understand immediately is "downcomer", plus there is one misspelling (methacrylec). Chemical patents are usually easier to process with MT (I am not calling it "translating") than patents in other fields because the sentences usually have a very simple structure.

3. The way I see it, neither Miguel nor Kevin are against MT. Nor am I against it.

But we are against intellectual dishonesty when it comes to MT, which was the topic of the post.

4. The original patent is probably quite easily searchable already in the original language. If it is for example a Japanese patent, anybody can use the MT engine on the Japanese Patent Office website to "MT-translate" it for free.

This function has been available for Japanese for about 20 years, which is how long I have been using it.

5. I think that Miguel and Kevin would probably agree with me that TRANSLATORS LOVE MT BECAUSE IT SAVES US PRECIOUS TIME.

We just hate it when people lie about it, usually to make buck.