Marathon of machine versus mind

How many of your Christmas gifts were made in China? Ongoing upgrades in transport and technology will no doubt make the world an even smaller place in 2012.

Translation innovation think tank, TAUS, believes that translation will become a ubiquitous service, “like the internet, electricity, and water, translation is one of the basic needs of human civilization.”

But will distant cultures ever be able to communicate effectively with each other?  And will machine translation ever make perfect sense?

If the unusual wording on this gift is anything to go by, there could be some curious conversations at the Olympics in July:

Collect and keep the certificate…

China Yun brocade is China’s the gorgeousest princely brocade, a section previous dynasties’ baldachin’s craft art zhi Dacheng, because becausbe like in the sky de rosy clouds but“Yun brocade”zhi given name, be special for palace manufacture impenal robe, vestment, curtain, baldachin’S wait for palace drive appliance de fabricate workshop. “drive brocade spin”Yun brocade de manufacture chief adopt tradition’s flower’s a thread of loom’s handwork’s fabricate, by two people cooperations operation, a people carr turn lines sample spend this, a people dish of shuttle zhuang colorful manufacture, a day output nothing. but several centimeter, at fabricate huge amount of use gold thread in process, silver wire, and match as colorful si si’s wool rare valuable brocade line inweave but become make zhi sumptuous, brilliant, ens”inch brocade inch gold”de good reputation.

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

8 thoughts on “Marathon of machine versus mind

    December 31, 2011 at 12:02

    For those who wish to push this – to me certainly – fascinating topic further, may I recommend Is That a Fish in Your Ear? by David Bellos ( Bellos is the translator, inter much alia, of Georges Perec’s wonderful but undeniably ‘diifficult’ La Vie Mode d.emploi (Life A User’s Manual) and he knows whereof he speaks. Machine translation – which relies not on translation as such but on comparisons of text strings – may make it simpler for me to complain about my Paris gas bill, but that’s all.

      December 31, 2011 at 17:11

      Thanks Jonathon – very amusing video on the subject of cardinal orientation via your amazon link – I hope you’re getting commission?

        December 31, 2011 at 19:23

        Hmm. All I get is David Bellos.

    December 31, 2011 at 14:07

    We have a ladder in the basement with the safety notice and other matter printed in both English and Spanish. In the latter, the date “May 2004” is rendered “Puede 2004”.

    On the other hand, an acquaintance who runs a translation service, and American living in Germany, says that he generally runs documents through Google Translate (which is using statistically-based inference, not straight substitution), and goes from there. He is not translating literature, to be sure, but business documents.

    December 31, 2011 at 16:39

    … the sky de rosy clouds … match as colorful si si’s wool … a people dish of shuttle zhuang … It could be Basil Fotherington-Thomas after a glass of cider at a picnic but it is, in, fact an anonymous software programme in a server farm. An accurate or even grammatical translation would be sooo dull by comparison. Without the joy of misunderstanding this brocade would surely lose it’s mystical allure (“ens’inch”?) and so its value.

  4. Gaw
    December 31, 2011 at 16:56

    Didn’t the founders of Sony believe they were calling their new venture ‘Sun’? Funny how they stumbled on a pretty good and distinctive brand name. Not everyone has the courage of their misinterpretations though. I’m old enough to remember that the Korean TV maker LG was originally called Lucky Goldstar, which is surely a much more enjoyable and memorable handle.

    December 31, 2011 at 17:29

    George, my attempts at communicating with far flung suppliers via the AltaVista Babel Fish translator have provided some very curious responses – especially from Brazil. Perhaps I should have tried Basil instead, Mark?

    According to Ecclesiastes 7,1, Gaw, “a good name is better than precious ointment”. Like Royal Mail, perhaps?

    January 3, 2012 at 17:25

    Funnier than Dads Army, more hilarious than Gavin & Stacy, more chuckles than a Ken Dodd one hour stand up, creates laughter on the scale of an Ed Milliband pronouncement, chortles by the yard, try Google Translator, Übersetzer extraordinary, one day this bag of nonsense will cause WW3.
    I was ever of the opinion that the foreign Johnnies should all speak English, therefore saving us a lot of head scratching. Especially the French, I have refused to speak their garlic reeking tongue ever since Mon General’s “non”

    “non” indeed, arrogant undankbar alte Leiche. Winnie should have had him shot.

    Happy new year everyone.

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