Having scaled back my use of Google related services recently (due to their excessive Marxist/Theocratic Islamist bias) I hesitate to mention this but the Google translation application, “Language Tool”, is quite fascinating. While it is very, very, very, far from perfect and only works with major language groups, you can usually get the gist of what the site or piece of text is saying. Moreover, they seem to have a new application in beta called “Translate” which, from the description, seems to be more reliant on machine translation though still exploiting user feedback. I do not know enough about the two systems to say how they are different so I will just note that Google’s “Language Tool” and “Translate” are really interesting.
There is a tendency for such systems to perform better when translating languages which are closer such as English and French than say, English and Hebrew or English and Arabic (Arabic being notoriously difficult to translate since there are multiple dialects across multiple regions). Whether this is because English and French are more similar so it is easier for machines to do the initial translation or because there are more people who speak both French and English than Hebrew and English (thus giving better feedback) is something I don’t know.
The interesting thing is that computers are getting better and faster at translating languages. The implications for human civilization are profound. Real time discussions between people speaking different languages are not far off. When people in the Islamic world or communist China are able to have frank and (on rare occasions) civil discussions with people who have not been raised in their culture, the effects could be unprecedented. Even the best of censors can not keep people who travel outside their jurisdiction (tourism, business travel etc.) from seeing what people around the world are thinking and saying. While hardware advancements are changing the way we communicate, language translation applications are changing what we communicate and, more importantly, who we communicate with. Cultures of the English language have come up with some very disruptive ideas in the last couple centuries and as the English speaking world becomes able to communicate these ideas across linguistic barriers there are going to be some interesting effects.