Monday, November 28, 2011

Common Sense Advisory Pummels Defunct Equine Mammal (More on the Content Tsunami… Sigh!)

The Common PlaceSense Advisory—which functions as a sort of propaganda arm for the Lower Quality Translation movement—has jumped on the bandwagon of the Content Tsunami lock, stock and two smoking barrels. In a breathtakingly unoriginal shill for cheap, low-quality translation, a press release from the think tank bleats that:
There is far too much content being created and far too few translators or money to translate it all – or even a tiny fraction of it. Independent market research firm Common Sense Advisory contends that translation automation tools such as MT promise to increase the volume and accelerate the pace of words rendered into other languages. “Translation strategies that rely on human output alone have already been overwhelmed by the explosion in content and the imperative to rapidly enter new markets,” says Don DePalma, Chief Strategy Officer at Common Sense Advisory.

About as subtle as a stomp in the face, isn’t it? Well, so much for independent analysis of the translation industry. Every time DePalma opens his mouth, a sales rep at Lionbridge gets sexually aroused. But, hey, peddling this sort of drivel as independent research gives the ideology behind cheap translation a thin coating of respectability.

At the risk of also beating a dead, decomposing horse, let me reiterate as briefly as I can the argument against the Content Tsunami: The amount of text that requires translation has not grown substantially. When we talk about a data deluge transmitted through the Internet, it involves mostly graphics and video, so the total giga and mega and googol figures breathlessly bandied about by L10N gurus are deceptive (often consciously so).

But let me rely on someone else’s words to drive home this point. In a New York Times review of James Gleick’s The Information, Geoffrey Nunberg comments on the conceptual mushiness of the term “information.” It can mean both “data,” which is meaningless, and “text,” which is meaningful (yes, even if it was written by Gertrude Stein). The slippage in and out of these two (radically different) conceptual realms is what allows charlatans to bang on about the dreaded Content Tsunami. To quote Nunberg:

When he [Gleick] describes the information explosion, he reckons the increase in bytes, citing the relentless procession of prefixes (kilo-, mega-, giga-, tera-, peta-, exa-, and now zetta-, with yotta- in the wings) that’s mirrored in the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, game consoles and windowless server farms.
 But there’s no road back from bits to meaning. For one thing, the units don’t correspond: the text of “War and Peace” takes up less disk space than a Madonna music video. Even more to the point, is “information” just whatever can be stored on silicon, paper or tape? It is if you’re Cisco or Seagate, who couldn’t care less whether the bytes they’re making provision for are encoding World of Warcraft or home videos of dancing toddlers. (Americans consume more bytes of electronic games in a year than of all other media put together, including movies, TV, print and the Internet.)
But those aren’t the sorts of things we have in mind when we worry about the growing gap between information haves and have-nots or insist that the free exchange of information is essential to a healthy democracy. Information, in the socially important sense — stuff that is storable, transferable and meaningful independent of context — is neither eternal nor ubiquitous. It was a creation of the modern media and the modern state (Walter Benjamin dated its appearance to the mid-19th century). And it accounts for just a small portion of the flood of bits in circulation.

Please allow me to reiterate the point, because it is crucial and reveals the flimsiness of the thinking by l10n gurus devoted to selling redundant MT systems: “Information, in the socially important sense — stuff that is storable, transferable and meaningful independent of context — is neither eternal nor ubiquitous… And it accounts for just a small portion of the flood of bits in circulation.” That means that truly valuable information, the type that cures cancer or leads to innovative inventions, has not grown significantly.

But don’t expect something like the truth to deter a dead-horse-pummeler as consummate as Mr. DePalma. Remember that you can’t convince someone of something if his salary depends on his not being convinced of it. This sort of implores one to ask the question as to how the Common Sense Advisory funds itself. I find it hard to believe that real companies actually pay this think tank for its “expertise” when they can get the same “World According to the Commonplace Advisory” Weltanschauung for free from the other McLocalization gurus.

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. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center, and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.


Rob said...

What amazes me is that more people don't see through the blatantly transparent self-interest that is at play here...

patenttranslator said...

In a sense, though, they are right when they say that there is a lot of "content" to be translated and not enough translators or money to do that.

Since most of the "content" is garbage that is not valuable enough to pay for a real translation by a human, machine translation is the logical solution.

The result is that garbage translated by MT is turned into even much worse garbage which may be completely incomprehensible.

We will be surrounded in the brave new world by giant garbage heaps everywhere we look, some of the garbage will be generated by humans and some by machines, and eventually there may not be that much difference between these two products.

(I thought I'd cheer you up a bit).

Miguel Llorens M. said...

Gee, thanks, Steve.

It is funny, though, isn't it? I am coming to realize that good translation is the exception rather than the rule. I am wondering if there is some profound marketing insight there...

Gueibor said...

Oh my goodness, we need more machines! Bring all the robots!! WHO'S GOING TO TRANSLATE ALL THIS PORN?!?!?