Oct 1, 2023

Bring the lightning.

Quality is a slippery notion, especially when discussing it with those whose ethical approaches to providing services are even slipperier. According to one well-known figure in the trashlation sector, "Quality doesn't matter". Knowing that individual as I do, I know that this utterance was intended as a provocation, and that it is likely backed by some almost-persuasive sleight-of-hand involving differing definitions and whatnot. Given the variability in the human emotional perception of quality (as with obscenity, I cannot define quality, but I know it when I experience it), all of the attempts one sees to quantify it in language services seem all the more absurd.

All the myriad process definitions, ISO certifications, stamps and seals of sinlessness, diplomata, grants of honoris causa et cetera cannot transform the humble lightning bug into a Bolt of Zeus.

Nor are Large Language Models (LLMs) capable of such linguistic transubstantiation, but rather the opposite. The predictive practices at their core could take a training feed of all the world's great literature (and likely already have), and yet the output would be nothing more than an insipid averaging of the basest mediocrities. Only the basest of the mediocre could mistake such text for objectively good quality.

Were we to plot the degree of enthusiasm for AI as the "future" of trashlation against the degree of actual understanding and competence for good language, the graph would look something like this:

But a recent article in The Economist suggests a better way. Curiously, it is a process I resort to myself when the greatest subtlety and balance are needed in a work, for example in the translation of good poetry, or a letter of condolence occasioned by the loss of a belovèd child.

Back to pen on paper. Where the pressure of the nib is an expression in itself, as the sweeping flourish of a final letter or a well-executed ligature.

"But that's ABSURD!!!" some might protest, glancing nervously at their smartphone timers counting down to the next due delivery of linguistic sausage. Much too slow some might think. But is it? Really?

"But you need to run QA and you can't do that with a sheet of scribbles on paper!" some might suggest, more reasonably. Ah, but I can, merely dictate the text I will have read aloud already time and again as I refined the words and their rhythm, and then, in good electronic form, all the slings and arrows of outrageous regex are my quality arsenal.

We have a slow food movement. Perhaps if we want more delicious, digestible, properly communicative words in our translated lives, we should slow the fuck down and let them crystallize, with exquisite subconscious fractal creativity, to form bolts of emotion and understanding that pierce the veil between this world and others as they flash across a page.

As the morlocks cower in their caves and hovels, tapping tiny tablets in their claws, prompting their artificial gods to take this terror of meaning from their shriveled world.

1 comment:

  1. "crystallize ... to form bolts of emotion that pierce the veil... " - brilliant phrase Kevin!


Notice to spammers: your locations are being traced and fed to the recreational target list for my new line of chemical weapon drones :-)