The technological revolution is now in full swing and people are embracing the associated changes more than ever before. The internet, smart phones, handheld games consoles, tiny notebooks…technology is everywhere and it makes our lives much easier. But are there any aspects where machines and technology may fail?
Technology beats man in countless fields. But are there any areas where humans will always rule? Is there any domain where machines will never be able to beat a fully-functioning Homo sapiens made simply of flesh and bones?
Well, aside the fact that humans manufacture all of these ingenious machines in the first place, there are still areas where we are irreplaceable. Get your computer to write a poem or try your notebook’s talents in song composition; the results won’t be too flattering. Machines are good…but they’re not that good.
Language is something that only humans will be able to fully understand and translate. Google, Yahoo and Bing have managed to bring automated translation to fairly impressive levels, but machine translation will never be able to compete with human translators. The different styles, contexts, cultures and nuances contained in language are just a few essential details that machines can’t understand.
Try translating a foreign-language e-mail into your native language using an online translator and you’ll probably get the gist of the message; however, you’ll note that the translation doesn’t sound quite right.
Now, imagine a more complex text such as a novel, which uses a much bigger bank of adjectives and nouns, mixing metaphors and colloquialisms, whilst using synonyms left, right and centre. Try typing a few paragraphs from Flaubert, or the author of your choice, into Google Translate using the original language in which the text was written. Get the machine to translate it into English (or a language which is familiar to you) and you’ll soon see that the text probably makes little sense.
Language is an amazing communication tool. It’s also one of the last remaining barriers in creating a true global village and, unless all of the six billion people on Earth agree to speak one common language, this will continue to be the case. And this is why translation is such a vital tool in today’s 24/7 digital, globalized world.
There are quite a few quirks across languages that help to highlight why humans will always have the upper-hand over machines when it comes to translation. Many words simply don’t translate well between languages.
Language is a complex, truly wonderful thing. Although most vernaculars share a common ancestral tongue, there are so many subtle differences between the numerous languages of the world that only humans can understand. Machines are better than humans at many things …but when it comes to language and translation, humans simply do it better.
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Original text by Christian Arno, modified by Karen Hallez