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Human Translation vs Machine Translation

Published on 06 June 15
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Machine Translation, or MT, is the term used to describe translation performed by a computer software program, as an alternative to human translation (HT), performed by a human translator. Machine Translation belongs in the area of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is the branch of computer science that deals with using computers to simulate human thinking. Its purpose is to create programs that can solve problems creatively, rather than merely respond to commands. In other words, to operate just like the human brain.

In the late 1950s programmers in organizations such as the U.S. Air Force believed that computers would soon be programmed to accept human language input and translate it into English or into any other language. During the ensuing 50 years, many millions of dollars were spent by the Air Force and by other entities in the hope of enabling computers to replace human translation. So far, the results have been quite limited, for two main reasons: (a) while computers have a seemingly unlimited capacity for processing data, they are far from being able to think creatively like human beings; and (b) human language is not merely a collection of signs and symbols that can be easily programmed, manipulated, and computerized. This is true of human language used not only in poetry and philosophy, but also in technical subjects, in which language expresses thought processes far more complicated than merely one plus one equals two.


Many people today continue to maintain that computers will soon replace translators. Most of those people are not translation experts. In fact, hardly any of them are. Some point to the fact that computers have already replaced typists and secretaries and reduced the workforce of many companies. All this reminds me of a remark by George Shaw, according to which a monkey could write Hamlet if it managed to hit all the right keys on the typewriter. Very few translators with typists and office support staff is missing the whole point of translation. As long as language continues to communicate more than the immediate literal meaning of words, as long as there are shades of meaning that keep changing all the time, as long as people have to make value judgments about the meaning and intent of a text, one will continue to need human translators to get the job done.


Finally, several companies in the U.S. and around the world have produced software designed to translate from one language into another. This software varies from a very basic word finder for the tourist, to complex programs for translating technical and scientific data.






Machine Translation, or MT, is the term used to describe translation performed by a computer software program, as an alternative to human translation (HT), performed by a human translator. Machine Translation belongs in the area of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is the branch of computer science that deals with using computers to simulate human thinking. Its purpose is to create programs that can solve problems creatively, rather than merely respond to commands. In other words, to operate just like the human brain.
In the late 1950s programmers in organizations such as the U.S. Air Force believed that computers would soon be programmed to accept human language input and translate it into English or into any other language. During the ensuing 50 years, many millions of dollars were spent by the Air Force and by other entities in the hope of enabling computers to replace human translation. So far, the results have been quite limited, for two main reasons: (a) while computers have a seemingly unlimited capacity for processing data, they are far from being able to think creatively like human beings; and (b) human language is not merely a collection of signs and symbols that can be easily programmed, manipulated, and computerized. This is true of human language used not only in poetry and philosophy, but also in technical subjects, in which language expresses thought processes far more complicated than merely one plus one equals two.

Many people today continue to maintain that computers will soon replace translators. Most of those people are not translation experts. In fact, hardly any of them are. Some point to the fact that computers have already replaced typists and secretaries and reduced the workforce of many companies. All this reminds me of a remark by George Shaw, according to which a monkey could write Hamlet if it managed to hit all the right keys on the typewriter. Very few translators with typists and office support staff is missing the whole point of translation. As long as language continues to communicate more than the immediate literal meaning of words, as long as there are shades of meaning that keep changing all the time, as long as people have to make value judgments about the meaning and intent of a text, one will continue to need human translators to get the job done.

Finally, several companies in the U.S. and around the world have produced software designed to translate from one language into another. This software varies from a very basic word finder for the tourist, to complex programs for translating technical and scientific data.

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