Google Translate Gets a Needs Improvement on Its Translation System

February 5, 2018

I read “The Shallowness of Google.” The critique is not from a trendy start up in Silicon Valley or an academic who flopped in a Google interview. The analysis is by Douglas Hofstadter. if the name does not ring a bell, this is the fellow who wrote Gödel, Escher, Bach, a quite fun read.

The main point of the write up is that Google’s implementation of its artificial intelligence and machine learning technology for Google Translate is bad.

Image result for alpha sled dog

Google wants to be perceived as the alpha dog in smart software. Do you want to take this canine’s kibble? Google can bite even thought it may not get the whole “idea” and “understanding” behind a reprimand.

Mr. Hofstadter writes:

Having ever more “big data” won’t bring you any closer to understanding, since understanding involves having ideas, and lack of ideas is the root of all the problems for machine translation today. So I would venture that bigger databases—even vastly bigger ones—won’t turn the trick.

The idea is that “understanding” is not baked into Google Translate. In addition to providing examples of screwing up translations from French, German, and Chinese, Google Translate does not look up information in Google Search. Mr. Hofstadter does.

He points out:

Google Translate can’t understand web pages, although it can translate them in the twinkling of an eye.

He correctly observes:

As long as the text in language B is somewhat comprehensible, many people feel perfectly satisfied with the end product. If they can “get the basic idea” of a passage in a language they don’t know, they’re happy.

Mr. Hofstadter touches upon two issues, which another informed critic might convert to a write up in the Atlantic:

  1. Google is simply delivering “good enough” services. The object is advertising, not outputting on point products and services for a tiny fraction of its user base
  2. Google’s hype about its smart software is only slightly less off-the-wall than the marketing of IBM Watson. The drum beat for smart software is necessary to attract young programmers who might otherwise defect to Amazon or other Google competitors and to further the illusion that Google’s technology is magical, maybe otherworldly and definitely the alpha dog in the machine learning Iditarod.

The write up is worth reading. However, I would not run it through Google Translate if you prefer to ingest the article in one of Google Translate’s supported languages.

And for a person going through the Google interview process, it is not a plus to suggest that Google’s technology might be little more than a C or possible an F. Rah rah is a better choice.

That’s why we love Google Translate here in Harrod’s Creek, but we have switched to Free since Google implemented a word limit.

Stephen E Arnold, February 5, 2018


One Response to “Google Translate Gets a Needs Improvement on Its Translation System”

  1. Russian translator. Translate English to Russian. on April 14th, 2018 4:25 pm

    In 2018 I guess, every online business is obliged to speak the proper language of its customers in order to build trust and enter the market successfully. Google translate won’t help. On top of that, proper website localization will bring new traffic, improve ROI, and boost sales. I wrote quite a lot of posts on how proper localization can improve website SEO and performance.

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