Oct 27, 2012

I dream of human-assisted machine translation

Reading in bed has a number of hazards, particularly for those who require some assistance to maintain their oxygen supply during sleeping hours and are prone to nodding off, book in hand. And woe to those whose choice of reading may cause uneasy stirrings of the mind, leading it down paths best untraveled. Since purchasing a Kindle just over a year ago I have had many unrestful nights as I read classics neglected in my youth, Dracula and Frankenstein being two of the happier examples. But little did I expect that reading a retrospective review of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 film Robocop would prove my final undoing....

They say that only two things are inevitable: death and taxes. They are wrong.

In the wake of the euro's collapse following the final meltdown of the Greek economy and its last government, German banks were faced with the problem of recouping their losses from people able to offer little more than a moderate supply of transplant organs for the ravenous Chinese market, and concerns among tour operators at the sudden increase of menus offering "long pig" indicated that international medical markets were in a state of oversupply and savory alternatives were too often the order of the day - and occasionally served as unasked-for appetizers.

Clearly, more sustainable engines of value were needed to drive the economy and extract returns from those who benefit from the strength and protection of the state. Fortunately, the persons closest to our enlightened, modern governments are ever active in the pursuit of advances in efficiency to enhance the return on the great investments made in the citizenry.

My life, or more precisely my economic utility after life, was saved by the wondrous results of a joint research project of governments, university medical centers and TAUS members determined to eliminate the exorbitant and unnecessary expense of human translation and post-editing. Although enormous progress had been made in convincing people of the progress of machine translation in its 70 year history, throughout that time the actual perfection of the results remained a maddening five years distant, the gap never quite closing as the faithful knew it should.

Some apostates among MT believers claimed that the technology could never achieve its full potential without the collaboration of qualified linguists, but these specialists remained stubborn for the most part in their resistance to using their brains for linguistic garbage recycling. Resistant, that is, until their brains became part of the recycling effort, offering value-added new "life" for the benefit of bottom lines.

A little-noticed provision of the 2014 tax reforms introduced by the Merkel government in the Germany and emulated by its subjects and acolytes around the world was conditional relief based on the reversion to the state of corporeal assets after the cessation of autorespiratory processes. And those who noticed... well, the comforting comparison with reverse mortgages and the lesser associated asset risk usually put their minds at ease.

The first indication I had that something was different was when I reached for my Kindle and found that it was no longer beside me, that in fact I could discern no "side". After a few moments' confusion, my vision cleared, and I was presented with a screen of text:
Crucial for the occurrence of a merger is the cross section, the measure of the probability that the colliding nuclei react. Sufficiently large, the cross section is usually only when the two cores with high energy collide. Which is necessary to overcome the Coulomb barrier, the electrical repulsion between the positively charged nuclei. However, the cross section is also less impact energy due to the tunneling effect is not zero. Reach the nuclei at a distance of only about 10-15 m from each other, they bind together the strong interaction, the nuclei have merged.
WTF? A timer appeared above the text, accompanied by a message to begin postediting. Huh? I stared at the jumble of words with no little confusion, wondering what their purpose could be. Colliding nuclei? Merger? Something to do with nuclear fusion perhaps, but hard to tell from this gurgled mess. I continued to stare at the text as the timer counted down. The message to begin began to flash, slowly at first, then more intensely. The countdown reached zero, and the message changed: target not achieved.

As I felt the electric surge convulse my body, I realized that I had no mouth with which to scream. But every part of my not-present body screamed for me as nerve centers received their reinforcing, teaching stimulus.


flashed briefly before my eyes, and the text reappeared.

My unseen fingers moved across an unfelt keyboard. The cross section is critical for determining the probability that colliding nuclei will react and fusion occur....

1 comment:

  1. Kevin,

    I understand that you remain skeptical about PEMT, but there are in fact practitioners out there who are producing the same final quality using post-edited MT as they do with standard TM based processes. Usually they do this faster and at a lower overall cost and the translators (editors) involved also often make more money. But I understand that you and many other translators that I met at ATA would not be interested in post-editing work, and that is also part of all of this.


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