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The Proper Place of Men and Machines in Language Translation

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000128912D
Original Publication Date: 1980-Oct-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Sep-20
Document File: 14 page(s) / 53K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Kay, M.: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

The world is badly in need of translators. Almost nobody denies this. The number of pairs of languages between which translations must be made and the number and types of documents involved is constantly increasing. There is not enough money to invest the profession with the status that would attract more people to it and that it certainly deserves. But we are fortunate to be children of the age of computers and it is to them that we naturally turn. A computer is a device that can be used to magnify human productivity. Properly used, it does not dehumanize by imposing its own Orwellian stamp on the products of the human spirit and the dignity of human labor but, by taking over what is mechanical and routine, it frees human beings for what is essentially human. Translation is a fine and exacting art, but there is much about it that is mechanical and routine and, if this were given over to a machine, the productivity of the translator would not only be magnified but his work would become more rewarding, more exciting, more human. It is altogether right that we should look to the computer. Indeed, if the need for translation is as great as it is said to be, the computer is our only hope. When the computer is improperly used, its effects are, of course, quite different. This happens when the attempt is made to mechanize the non-mechanical or something whose mechanistic substructure science has not yet been revealed. In other words, it happens when we attempt to use computers to do something we do not really understand. History provides no better example of the improper use of computers than machine translation. Of the impressive list of exploits that computer scientists and computational linguists have engaged in over the past twenty years, the only one that has ever succeeded in firing the imagination of translators and their employers has been machine translation. But here the success of machine translation ends. It fires the imagination but it does not, except under very special circumstances, produce useful results. The late Bar Hillel, a most vociferous critic of machine translation, characterized the ideal towards which inventors in this field strive as Fully Automatic High-Quality Translation (FAHQT). The machine would be one which, without human intervention except perhaps at the input keyboard, could render a more or less arbitrary text in one language into a text of equal quality in another. It is surely a worthy ideal and one which has attracted a regrettably small number of linguists and computer scientists. Even if it is never achieved, it provides an incomparable matrix in which to study the workings of human language. Whether it is achieved or not, other useful, if more modest, inventions may well emerge as by-products of the attack on FAHQT provided only that the work is conducted in a healthy intellectual environment. The trouble is that no such environment exists today. To understand language is to understand how it works. Enlightening remarks about it will therefore often be best expressed in terms of processes. I take this to mean that important contributions to linguistics are likely to be more and more in the spirit of Artificial Intelligence. A manifesto for this point of view is out of place here. What is to the point is that translation embraces every facet of language while providing a task whose criteria of success, for all their problems, are remarkably well defined. In science in general, and artificial intelligence in particular, the proper role of computers is quite different from any they can play in engineering or any enterprise directed towards the fulfillment of immediate and practical needs. Here they are properly applied to what is not understood with the expectancy that, as much by their frequent and resounding failures as by anything else, they will illuminate the boundaries of our ignorance. Engineering pays heavily for the very failures that science can best profit from. The need for translated texts will not be filled by a program of research that devotes all of its resources to a distant ideal, and linguists and computer experts will be denied the proper rewards of their labors if they must promise to reach the ideal by some specific time. A healthy climate for FAHQT will be one in which a variety of different though related goals are being pursued with equal vigor for the intellectual and practical benefits that they may bring.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

©; Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, October, 1980

The Proper Place of Men and Machines in Language Translation

by Martin Kay

CSL-80-1 1 October 1980
(I) Xerox Corporation 1980

Abstract: The only way in which the power of computers has been brought to bear on the problem of language translation is machine translation, that is, the automation of the entire process. Machine translation is an excellent research vehicle but stands no chance of filling actual needs for translation which are growing at a great rate. In the quarter century during which work on machine translation has been going on, there has been considerable progress in relevant areas of computer science. However, advances in linguistics, important though they may have been, have not touched the core of this problem. The proper thing to do is therefore to adopt the kinds of solution that have proved successful in other domains, namely to develop cooperative man-machine systems. This paper proposes a translator's amanuensis, incorporating into a word processor some simple facilities peculiar to translation. Gradual enhancements of such a system could eventually lead to the original goal of machine translation.

A version of this paper will appear in-Statistical Methods in Linguistics. CR Categories: 3.42.

Key words and phrases: Natural Language, Machine Translation.

XEROX

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INTRODUCTION

The world is badly in need of translators. Almost nobody denies this. The number of pairs of languages between which translations must be made and the number and types of documents involved is constantly increasing. There is not enough money to invest the profession with the status that would attract more people to it and that it certainly deserves. But we are fortunate to be children of the age of computers and it is to them that we naturally turn. A computer is a device that can be used to magnify human productivity. Properly used, it does not dehumanize by imposing its own Orwellian stamp on the products of the human spirit and the dignity of human labor but, by taking over what is mechanical and routine, it frees human beings for what is essentially human. Translation is a fine and exacting art, but there is much about it that is mechanical and routine and, if this were given over to a machine, the productivity of the translator would not only be magnified but his work would become more rewarding, more exciting, more human. It is altogether right that we should look to the computer. Indeed, if the need for translation is as great as it is said to be, the computer is our only hope.

When the computer is improperly used, its effects are, of course, quite different. This happens when the attempt is made to mechanize the non-mechanical or something whose mechanistic substructure science has not yet been revealed. In other words, it happens when we atte...