June 20, 2002

Is Bablefish Ready for Prime Time Yet? No.

Is machine translation ready for prime time yet?

| Translated version of http://www.emmanuelle.net (BETA) |

Los Angeles, world capital of the dangerous distorsions in the car: on the freeways, essential expressways to move in this mégapole of more than 100 km North-South, it is not rare to see women to apply will mascara in the rear view mirror and of the men to consult their Palm Pilot with the wheel between the knees. The L.A. Times questions officers of California Highway Patrol (as the heroes of the series TV Chips) who tell rather incredible things: they saw a motorist to follow a match of foot (yes, astonishing soccer..., not?) by holding small tele of a hand, adjusting the antenna of the other. Another officer saw a woman threading a pair of sticking to 90 km/h! Unfortunately, the article is hidden in the site of Times and I cannot announce you the bond... but this police officer with the retirement with photographs amusing on its site of a motorist eating fast Chinese food with rods while slipping by to 112 km/h!

Is Babelfish ready for prime time yet? It seems that the answer is still "No," and is likely to remain "No" for quite some time...

Posted by DeLong at June 20, 2002 06:08 PM


I don't quite get it. This is actually a pretty good translation for a machine. You can clearly understand the themes and contents of the article. It isn't the way a human would translate it. no, but it remains possible to make sense of it if you understand that it is an excessively literal machine translation. For someone with only a bit of knowledge of French, it is possible to understand the article almost completely with the help of the translation.

Full disclosure: I work for a competitor of the company that makes the software behind babelfish. People seem to think someday machine translation will give them high-quality, human equivalent output, as if French was just another protocol to hack, like HTML. I wouldn't bet that anyone alive today will ever see such a thing. In fact, there are some good arguments why such high quality machine translation may not ever be possible.

In the mean time, thanks to Babelfish, I can read and use texts written in languages that I have hardly studied at all. The astute user with a minimal knowledge of foreign languages can dramatically expand their ability to access information with machine translation in its present state. If the consumer is willing to adapt a bit, the existing products are already very valuable.

Posted by: Scott Martens on July 30, 2002 12:36 PM
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