Why and for whom is machine translation suitable?

    Elon Musk does not spend his children learning foreign languages. He believes that they will certainly survive to a fantastically reliable and useful machine translation. Indeed, in front of our eyes, science fiction is becoming a reality: smart homes greet us with a hot dinner, voice assistants joke with us in chat rooms, and anthropomorphic robots maintain dialogue in several languages. So when does a translator of equal value appear in every smartphone?


    Never! Or very soon - this is the first disappointing news. The fact is that people who speak languages ​​are able to convey the meaning of written in their own words, without being tied to the structure of the source. Machines translate word-by-word or phrase-by-word and teaching them how to operate not with words, but with images is the same as inventing artificial intelligence. What does it mean to “operate with images?” It means to understand the translated text, to interpret it. That is, no more, no less - to have consciousness.

    The good news is that for more than 70 years of the existence of machine translation, we have already come a long way from statistical methods to artificial neural networks.
    Networks can read sentences from left to right and from right to left, literally transliterate their own names and, instead of remembering many translation options, operate on the semantics of the whole text, breaking it into segments, after which they are analyzed and synthesized. The result is decent, and, in some cases, the system translates even phraseological units.

    Neural networks can not cope

    Language is a very flexible system with an unlimited set of vague rules. Although neural networks already grasp semantic and syntactic connections in sentences and even recognize the speaker’s accent, they are not able (and most likely will not learn) to take into account cultural, cognitive, literary and other aspects of translation. In other words, the context can fundamentally disrupt communication, because: The

    computer cannot understand the culture: The


    computer does not translate idioms well: The

    computer is not able to convey the emotions of songs and poems:


    Emotionally colored texts, phraseological turns, cultural subtext are also not for the machine:

    Contracts, letters of guarantee, marketing materials, medical documents, an error in which may cost someone life - this is not for the car:

    Advertising slogans, any literary texts - it is too heavy, ambiguous and not formalized for machine translation. And the very term “translation” in relation to the literary text is probably not quite correct. Here, the task of the translator is not to decode the text, but to find vocabulary equivalent in meaning in the target language. The translator works with meanings, and not with words, and relies on literary flair in work:
    After all, the earth makes a revolution in twenty-four hours ...

    - Turnover? - repeated the Duchess thoughtfully.

    And, turning to the cook, she added:

    - Take her into circulation! First, chop off her head!

    Trusting the car, we cut off from the texts the whole amazing linguistic game on which the humor of famous shows, films and series is built, from which a sentimental aftertaste of favorite songs grows:

    Why and for whom is machine translation suitable?

    For people who do not know the language, who need in the most general terms to understand the content of a text. For translators who need a “template” for editing. Well, and of course, for a business that needs to accelerate intercultural communication processes.

    Another thing is that machine translation will still have to be edited by a person, and for this you need to be able to notice and correct errors made by the machine. This is a separate, time-consuming process that requires a specific skill. This skill is basic for a philologist, but an ordinary student is almost as laborious to teach him as ... English in the degree necessary to understand most texts.

    What are the findings?

    Machine translation can serve as a good fighter in formal business correspondence, but it will betray you in live communication. Relying on machine translation, we generally deprive ourselves of the elementary joy of communication, because no one wants to talk with a smartphone - in any case, until it sticks out in place of your own head. But even science fiction did not predict such a thing for us.

    Relying on machine translation, we are actually betting on the imminent emergence of consciousness in computers, similar to human. That is, self-awareness that would allow the machine to understand what exactly it is “reading” and translate it humanly. Can all human brain processes be reduced to algorithms? It is unlikely that this issue will be resolved in the near future. But learning English using all the achievements of scientific progress is a quick and effective thing. For those who are not ready to exchange warm lively communication with beautiful people around the world for a soulless machine translation, we have prepared something. Click here to sign up for a free English lesson at Skyeng School. Enter the HABR2 promotional code when registering: 2 lessons will be added as a gift upon first payment.

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