A Neural Network for Machine Translation

30th September 2016

It would seem that not a week goes by without Google announcing yet another breakthrough in machine translation. A breakthrough that will, this time for sure, put human translators out of business. The announcement, this week, is Google’s Neural Network for Machine Translation, which states that “Google Neural Machine Translation system (GNMT), […] utilizes state-of-the-art training techniques to achieve the largest improvements to date for machine translation quality.”

It would appear that ‘neural network’ is the tech buzzword for this decade, as ‘cyber’ was for the nineties and ‘quantum’ for the noughties. As before though, the reality never really seems to live up to the media hype. As a recent thread on Reddit demonstrates, Google still has a long way to go.

A quick browse of the comments shows that it doesn’t take long for the shortcomings of the new and improved Google start to show themselves :-

“And when Google has finally managed to translate even one Finnish sentence, I’ll believe there’s a chance.”

“It’s Japanese is also pretty rubbish. Most sentences beyond the most basic just come out as nonsensical gibberish.”

“same goes to arabic. it is impossible to translate an arabic sentence without sounding like an idiot.”

As we have discussed previously, in posts Google Translate strikes again and Human Translation vs The Rise of the Machines, whilst Google Translate will no doubt, one day, manage to improve its translation capabilities, the technology just isn’t ready for commercial standard translation at the moment.

One of the many benefits of working with, professional, human linguists is that they are able to understand and correctly translate the subtle nuances of language and correctly transfer the meaning and intention of a piece of text, rather than systematically, and often un-emotionally, reconstruct each sentence the way machine-translation works.

Even assuming Google does manage to achieve perfect translation capabilities, there is still the question of style to be addressed. Google won’t be able to accommodate company glossaries or terms, as it will stick to using the word it thinks is correct. Google Translate can’t be asked to make the translation slightly less, or slightly more formal either. Once the ‘translate’ button is clicked, you receive the standard, Google version of the translation – a translation that is not able to take context in to account.

While this new technology might seem troublesome for professional linguists – after all, it could put 1,000s of people out of work overnight – the reality is, like self-driving cars, it is something that will take decades to perfect rather than years. The contestant evolution of language and human interaction means that humans will always be one step ahead when it comes to translation, simply due to the fact that humans have the emotions and imagination to enhance a translation as opposed to a machine interpretation.

Translation is an art, rather than a science and so, if you or your company are looking to make an impact on the global market, or need documentation translated for your client or an upcoming project, speak to one of the project managers at Foreign Tongues Translation and we will help guide you through the process.

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