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Machine Translation: Building up the Hype

Are the tides changing for MT already?

Last time we spoke about the importance of emotional investment in MT. We considered the amount of hatred and resistance this technology has faced from both users and consumers.

Well, it seems things might be looking brighter for MT, according to several polls and recent studies conducted over the past few months. This is thanks to the increasing development of neural MT technology and its powerful ability to learn and improve its own skills as it goes.

The latest research into statistical techniques, as well as the increased availability of GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) and advanced data processing have brought about a renewed interest in the neural technology. Neural networks are now trained with the same type of graphic cards used for video games. These cards are extremely efficient at carrying out complex mathematical operations. As we gamer-nerds know, neural networks are all about math, and GPU cards will perform advanced calculations, whose results are quality graphics in the case of gaming, and quality translations in the case of a neural network for MT.

Google’s initial results – checked online by an army of professional translators and “aficionados” – caused a flurry of conversation around the new neural machine translation’s ability to produce quality translations. The linguistic flare of the output was impressive and it has been followed by a surge in academic publications mentioning the “neural” and the recent announcement by Facebook that convolutional NMT can run 9 times faster and produce even better results.

The new buzzword is neural networks, and the hype about artificial intelligence only seems to increase with the rise of the tide. And the truth is: We don’t even know when and where this new technology can take us.

So, if we speak of tides changing as a visual metaphor for how hard MT has hit the translation market, as well as how devastating its potential promises to be, I can’t help but picture Hokusai’s famous tsunami wave, cresting on the horizon, threatening to swallow mount Fuji as a whole.

As well as Hokusai’s tsunami, MT is developing to look like a powerful force of nature.

It portrays the eternal struggle between man and nature, which has very much to do with users embracing MT.

But is mankind the mountain or the wave? Is he both? Is he just the tiny lilliputian boats in nature’s gaping maw, praying to make it through the storm?

In our use of the metaphor, mankind has created the wave of MT itself, just as much as natural disasters are a result of carbon emission and global warming. The progress of the industrial revolution has push mankind forward since its beginnings, but let us not forget the unavoidable backlashes of its global spread over the years.

So, nature creates mankind. Mankind creates machines. Machines replace mankind. This is usually the sci-fy cycle of death and destruction that strikes the hearts of the fearful. Although we may opt to flip the coin, follow Schumpeter and also consider destruction as an act of creation.

Creation – Destruction – Recreation. Such is the natural cycle of life and death.

Cause in the end, aren’t we humans a product of nature itself?

As Thomas Hobbes once put it: Homo homini lupus.

“Man is the wolf of man”Bringing its own destruction upon him, as part of the natural cycle.

Just be ready to catch the new wave, or it might swallow you whole…