Monday, May 23, 2011

The Future is Here... But it Feels a Lot Like the Present

I am constantly amazed at the things that a well written software program can do. I think we're at the tip of a an amazing revolution, thanks to the confluence of cheap, disposable processors and clever software. I think of something like Google translate. I work for an international company that communicates with folks all over the world. There was a time, not so long ago, that it would be almost impossible to communicate directly with someone without a language to share, but translation software makes is a snap. I can see in English what was written in German, Spanish, Chinese, etc. Miraculous times.

Of course, one of the great things one can do with such a powerful technology is try to trick it. I think it's a good exercise, and at least for me, a very telling one. It let's us know that computers aren't so smart, they struggle with grammar just as much as we do.

To see where we are at, a fun game, that isn't really new, is to type something in English, translate it through several languages before eventually bringing it back to English again. I thought it would be fun to play with that and see what results I would get.

I wanted something short, but complex enough expose any goofs along the way. So I whipped up a quick sentence to use.

The first time I felt the wind on my face, I knew I would never set foot on the ground again.

That might not win me any awards, but it should do for now. I wanted to see what it would do if I went through several Germanic languages, to see if that would help keep the translation close when I brought it back to English again.

I translated it to German, then took that text and translated it to Swedish, to Danish, to Icelandic, before finally settling back on English. The result?

First time shooting a pitcher blow ansiktet, Jag Jag att knew would never be a true Footgolvet again.

I'm not a linguist, but I thought that running them through several closely related languages (which I did - at least according to this chart) would make a better end result. Granted, there were four translations before it came back to English, so I didn't expect stellar results, but damn. That's near impossible to decipher. 

So I tried the same original sentence again, this time using as many disparate languages as I could. I'm sure a lot of the Romance languages are closer to English than say, Icelandic, but still, I followed the chart

So again, English to Russian, then Russian to Spanish, then to Hebrew, to Hindi, and finally back to English. What did I get?

Ansiktet pitcher hit the first shot, Jaguar Jaguar Footgolvet ATT knew that he really will not happen again.

What did that teach me? Absolutely nothing, except that computers don't seem so smart now, do they? Score one for the humans. Kirk would be proud. If Google goes down later, you'll know why. I broke it.

*edit* Actually, I did learn something, both translations gave me the word 'Footgolvet'. What the hell?


A Beer for the Shower said...

I'm not going to lie, I have spent an exorbitant amount of time at work (back when I was employed) translating things back and forth and back and forth. Instant hilarity.

I don't know what a Footgolvet is, but it seems like a word I want to randomly add to my vocabulary to throw people off.

mooderino said...

You also have ansiktet and some kind of jag jag reference. Seems very odd. I think it might be worth trying a simple phrase to see if it can at least tell you where the post office is.



Rogue Mutt said...

Someone just needs to breed a real babelfish we can put into our ears as a universal translator.

Suze said...

Ha! I love this post!

Mike said...

This could be one reason why the Bible is so messed up, having gone through multiple translations.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Wondered why Google was flaky today.
Maybe Footglovet is the name of your next book or character? Could be a sign...

Trisha said...

I love the Babelfish translator :) Makes me feel faintly bilingual when I'm really, REALLY not... lol

Rusty Webb said...

Beer - I admit it too, this isn't the first time I've enjoyed trying to play with the app either. Way too much fun. Happy Footgolveting to you.

Mooderino - Yeah, since the only language in common between the two examples was english, I'd wager we're seeing an error as opposed to a real attempt at translation. Still fun though.

Rogue - agreed, although, I'd wager if such a thing was possible, some quirk of nature would force us to use Great White sharks as the base stock, and they would always be trying to eat us.

Suze - Thanks

Mike - Yes, that is possible, although I think most scholarly complaints about the bible have to do with interpolations and transcription issues more than translations.

Trisha - I used some translation software in a story I wrote once, when I had to have a character shout a few lines in another language. I shudder to think what someone fluent would think if they were to read it. Yikes.