Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why I think machine translation will succeed

Machine translation is the kind of translation where computers are involved. Computers can just help a human or be in charge of the whole translation process. Machine translation is a field of computational linguistics and is tightly related to artificial intelligence.

One of the things I like the most about AI is its unlimited nature. The following is one of the best definitions of artificial intelligence I have seen so far:

The study of how to make computers do things at which, at the moment, people are better
-- Rich and Knight, 1991

I used to think there would always be something at which humans are better than machines. Translation was one of those things. Only a human could translate a book or a movie and not only keep the meaning in the target language, but also make the audience feel the same as in the source language. Machine translation is clumsy, imprecise and lacks that human touch for choosing the right words.

However, I am seeing an increasing number of human-made translations which are so low-quality that I feel a computer could do it better. Whilst I do not believe in replacing humans by machines just for the sake of industrialisation, it seems pretty obvious that nowadays human translators benefit from the fact that computers are worse than them at translating texts.

Books are a field where human translators are way ahead of computers, and while I mostly find translations less interesting than the originals, nobody would delegate the translation of a book to a machine, and a change is not foreseeable in the near future. However, movies and TV shows are reaching such low-quality levels I think current technology would be able to pass the Turing test against many audiences.

Two recent examples I saw on TV:
  • TV3, I cannot recall the name of the movie. One of the characters said "Em fa por que no sigui massa tard" as a translation of the original "I'm afraid it's too late".
  • Antena 3, The Simpsons. In the background it could be read "Class of 78 rules!". At the same time a subtitle with the text "Normas de la clase del 78" was shown.
Since some human translators seem not to care about the accuracy of their translations, machine translation is bound to have a successful future.

Photo by dwaas76

Monday, December 17, 2007

No photography

I am back from my trip to Madrid. It has been a very pleasant stay and I am really satisfied with this touristic trip.

I love to take photos. I am the typical tourist in the sense that I take photos of every landmark in a city; however there is a little artist inside me who tells me to go beyond landmarks and take photos of metaphors, people, concepts, beauty.

While organizing the photographs from my recent trip (some of them are already uploaded to flickr) I realised that there are many photos missing in my collection: those are the photos from places where photography is not allowed.

Some of the places I visited in Madrid where photography is not allowed are:
I am beginning to think there are now too many places where photography is not allowed. IANAL, but I think it also might be illegal to do so.

A friend of mine told me it is legal to set your own rules within your private property. Therefore, if you own a museum, you can forbid photography if you want. When a visitor comes, they know in advance that photography will not be allowed in your property, and it is their choice whether to buy an admission ticket or not. I will handle this later, but for now I will stick to publicly funded places.

Let us take the El Prado museum as an example. It is a publicly funded museum with some copyrighted material in it. I am allowed to visit the museum (as long as I pay €6 fee) and see its contents. It is illegal for me to take photos of the copyrighted paintings inside and distribute them. However, what seems to be the problem with taking photos for my own use? Why is photography forbidden?

When I try to simplify the problem then I conclude it must be illegal to forbid photography in El Prado museum. Imagine I draw sketches of the paintings I like the most. Or even better (since sketching is forbidden too in some museums), let's say I write a very detailed description of each painting, which allows me to reconstruct the picture later. Is this going to be forbidden? What if I can remember this detailed description in my head? What if I have got eidetic memory and can remember every single detail without writing anything down? Is thinking going to be forbidden?

The same applies to private property. Up to what extent can you set your own rules in your private space? Can I ask people to, say, renounce they right to freedom?

I am willing to accept prohibition of photography under very specific circumstances:
  • When only flash photography is forbidden because the light might cause damage to the subject of the photography (be it a painting or a life being).
  • When it can be proven that photography can cause interferences to critical devices (such as machines in a hospital).
  • When it can be proven that photography can cause a threat to public security (photography is usually forbidden at security controls in airports; I however do not know how that could be a security threat since everyone can see what a camera can capture in a photograph).
In the rest of circumstances, I see the prohibition of photography as a vulneration of one's most basic rights. With the excuse of security and preserving copyrighted material, soon it will be illegal for reporters to tell the world what is happening. I can very well imagine a society where only the official information is allowed; a society where allowed photographs are sold as postcards; a society where freedom seems to exist but it does not. The human race has already gone through that. History seems to be bound to repeat itself, now under the feeling of freedom, shown by an election every four years.

Please move along. No photography allowed in here, thank you. Hope to see you back soon!