By Bridget Hylak, Administrator, Language Technology Division
Linguists old and new are celebrating and/or struggling with the influx of project requests requiring MT or MTPE. Like it or hate it, neither one is going anywhere. Mind you, though, they are two very different things.
MT, or machine translation, is an undeniable and oh-so-handy tool for linguists to have in their professional toolbox. Depending on the language combination and specialty you work in, and the specific engine you choose (there are many, so research optimal engines for your combo), MT can become your new favorite, furry friend.
If you haven’t tried it yet, or haven’t securely incorporated it into your professional work environment, reach out your hand already and take the olive branch. MT won’t bite or upset your flow; it will purr like a kitty and lick your feet, well, also like a kitty.
If pets aren’t your thing, just think of your first car as a young adult – smelling the smells, caressing the steering wheel, turning up the music and feeling an undeniable sense of newfound freedom.
In other words, if you haven’t quite cozied up to MT in your daily grind yet, where have you been all my life? Give me a call (WhatsApp also works), we need to talk.
Yep, it’s that good.
While some less common, lower-resource languages are still in the process of building truly useful engines, don’t worry. The world’s getting smaller by the minute, MT is only getting better at learning, and your day will come. To anyone in that situation, you have my heartfelt apologies that the powers that be haven’t yet done their due diligence. In the meantime, keep playing around with it until you start to notice, “Hey, that’s not bad…”
MTPE, or machine translation post-editing, on the other hand, isn’t exactly the same thing and shouldn’t (yet) be discussed in the same Zoom webinar.
When it comes to MTPE, my current philosophy is simple: MTPE nQsf.
That’s, “MTPE, not QUITE so fast…”
Think of MTPE this way:
MT = machine
PE = you
Successful, highly accurate MTPE requires special handling by a trained linguist who, at first, might find themself completely flabbergasted by the task. MTPE is not like regular “E,” that is, editing the work of a trained, competent colleague. Nor is MTPE anything like “T,” that is, translation with MT in the background. Neither does it represent merely a linguistic challenge, but a technical one as well.
But wait! You didn’t become a translator to use technology, you say? You didn’t spend all those years mastering foreign language XYZ only to have a machine cramp your style? Tell that to the neurosurgeon currently conducting robotic brain surgeries, or the auto mechanic who hooks incoming cars up to the hard drive to diagnose and resolve issues. Nowadays, and even “way-back-then-adays,” both professionals need not only industry smarts, but tech prowess, too. That is, if they want to keep their jobs.
My favorite analogy which erupted over my own frustration with communicating both the promise and the pain of language technology is that of a surgical robot. I’ve shared this illustration on countless occasions to both linguist, client and government audiences, and the silence that immediately falls makes it clear that a loud, clangy bell has rung somewhere in their heads.
It goes like this. If you are on the operating table about to go under for a right radical nephrectomy (“the old fashioned way”), and the pre-op nurse casually mentions that your surgeon will be using a robot, whoa, Nellie! How would you respond?
Personally, I would demand to know three things, then two more (so five all together, I guess… the mental math is still intact):
- Is my same, excellent, Harvard-trained surgeon going to do the surgery?
- Is that “robot” any good…? I mean, how many nephrectomies does it have under its hood?
- Is my same, excellent, Harvard-trained surgeon… any good doing surgery via robot? That is, how much training does she have “on the bridge” between her medical degree and proper certification or “whatever” she needs to be qualified to use that thing on me?
- How many right, radical robotic nephrectomies has she actually done…?
- Don’t tell me that sassy, know-it-all tech guy sitting there is going to do this, ‘cuz he doesn’t even know where my kidney is…
Yes, family and friends, MTPE is its own thing, with distinct advantages, disadvantages, quirks and benefits, headaches, heartbreaks and absolute moments of ecstasy – but you have to take it seriously.
Neither MT or MTPE is going anywhere, and most importantly, neither one will threaten your career. They will only enhance it.
Unless, of course, if you ignore them.
Until next time,