Posted by: patenttranslator | October 18, 2013

If You Have Any Questions, Die!

This was a machine translation of a sentence in Japanese that I recently got back from a machine translation program considered to be the best MT program around.

Even translators praise it, and quite a few are afraid of it.

Yes, it was GoogleTranslate, my machine translation program of choice.

I was able to figure out the real meaning because I saw which characters were misread by the software. But if I were an MT user who does not know the foreign language, I would have no idea what the sentence really meant.

If a person told you that you need to die if you have a question, you could probably do something about it. But there is nothing you can do when a machine tells you to die, is there?

In the old world, the world that we used to live in only a few decades ago, people mostly interacted with other people. If you called any telephone number, your call would be answered by a person that you could talk to. The seventies and eighties then brought us answering machines, followed a few years later by voice mail and what is affectionately referred to as voice mail hell – people being put on hold by machines programmed to disconnect people after a certain number of minutes.

It is so much more efficient this way!

In the new world, we are increasingly being forced to interact with machines everywhere we look, machines that don=t give a damn whether people interacting with them live or die.

In the old translation industry model, translators interacted as people with other people, namely people who were running a translation agency business. These people got to know you and you got to know them, and if you liked them and they liked you, sometime a working partnership was thus established between a translator and an agency that would last for many years, sometime even decades.

In the new translation industry model, translators are almost never actually talking to a person. At this point they are still exchanging personal e-mails with real persons at a translation agency, but I have no doubts that somebody somewhere is working on a software package designed to replace the person doing the talking for the agency so that the translator would have to interact with software instead of a person.

It would be so much more efficient this way!

Even when a translation agency contacts me personally because it is interested in my service, this is done in a very impersonal manner these days.

The e-mail usually goes like this: “I saw your particulars in the ATA database ….. we are looking for experienced translators of Japanese patents, especially in the field of chemistry and physics …. could you please e-mail us your resume and rates?”

The person sending the e-mail is not really interested in me in particular and my qualifications because she is probably sending the same e-mail to at least a dozen translators.

I did in fact receive such an e-mail two days ago. So I responded by sending them my resume and my rates.

In the old days, a sly but often interesting agency operator would call me to figure out whether I am for real.

But this does not happen anymore. The agency e-mailed me a link to a database with a request to fill in my particulars in the database. The database no doubt has many fields with questions that have nothing to do with what I do, such as whether I transcribe audio or video tapes (no, I do not), or whether I am a “transcreationist” (no, I do not do transcreation either). All you have to do is read my resume if you want to know what it is that I do.

This mad patent translator has an irrational aversion to interacting with machines.

This includes computerized databases, but also machines such as checkout scanners in supermarkets (I refuse to learn how to use them because the human cashier probably really needs her job), and even voice mail (I almost never leave a message unless absolutely necessary), and of course, I don’t click on links leading to databases hungry to feast on my “particulars”.

Older people often exhibit the same kind of aversion to interaction with machines, younger people not so much anymore. They seem to have been programmed from a very young age to obediently follow instructions issued to them by soulless machines, which may in fact be asking them to die should they have any questions.

It can happen – it did happen to me.

Although I will never work for this agency as I don’t want to be registered in a database with dozens of other warm bodies hungry for work, I have no doubt that this database is filled now with a lot of contact information from other translators who do not suffer from this particular aversion of mine.

The agency’s database would probably not tell me to die if I had any questions (unless it has a bug that makes it display this message, which is always a possibility).

But still, I cannot ask a database questions, and I need to be able to ask questions before I make an important decision, such as whether I want to work for somebody or not.

You have to show some interest in me if you want me to work for you.

If you ask me to go to a database, well, you can just go to hell.


  1. HEAR! HEAR!
    Every word – a gem.
    I love the “punch line”: If you ask me to go to a database, well, you can just go to hell.


  2. “Every word – a gem.”

    Thank you so much ….. including the typos?


    • I look away from the typos…


  3. I always ask the dear souls to confirm that my rates and other terms are acceptable before bothering with registering in their database…. How hard is it to copy-paste the information that I already sent them (on their request), anyway?!? I hate online registration. I always wonder if that’s their polite way of saying “We just had a collective heart attack when we saw your rates and your expectation of actually getting paid in full with no deductions for our bank fees. Gasp!”


  4. @jwoolman

    If what you are is an entry in a database with many other database entries, the chances are that your rates are much too high unless they are lower than those of all the other entries in the database.


  5. Asking translators to complete THEIR internal database on-line (at the translator’s expense) even though the information they need is readily available on the internet or from a professional profile, has less to do with obtaining the information, than with establishing a negotiating position (‘pecking order’ if you want to be technical about it).

    A subtle way of immediately establishing who will be controlling the relationship and the value chain you are being sucked into if they approve of your willingness to subservient and work for ‘competitive’ rates… (oops, sorry, I mean the team you are joining, to take advantage of the exiting opportunities they have to offer :-).


    • @Louis

      Not so subtle to those who are actually paying attention.

      The question is, do translators pay attention to these not so subtle signs and use the to weed out agencies that are just not worth the trouble, or have most of them been brainwashed and intimidated to such an extent that they no longer perceive this as something abnormal.


  6. Steve:

    So what was the original text? Inquiring minds (or at least my inquiring mind) want to know.



    • It just said to contact certain “person in charge” if you have any questions. But the text was bolded (black), which is why the character was misread by the software.

      I ran the sentence through GoogleTranslate because I was not sure how to pronounce the first name of the guy.


  7. This reminds me of a documentary someone was trying to do on, I think, banking. You know how you always get the “Your call may be recorded for quality assurance”? Well, the reporter called the bank and asked the guy on the other end if he himself could record the conversation. Needless to say, he was denied. The bank is allowed to do it, but the customer is not.

    I think it works exactly like that with most translation agencies. They want you to put the effort in of completing endless questionnaires, doing free translation tests, and waiting 60 days before getting paid. But if you ask them anything back, you just get disconnected.


  8. @KB

    They want to know everything about us, while we may know nothing about them.

    Just like the NSA.


  9. Steve, if an agency were really interested in a translator, they’d have gotten to know the translator, anyway and anyhow.

    Louis’ technical term of “pecking order” is for unknown younger translators who have to find a way to “fit in the industry.” Veterans choose their places to peck disregarding the pecking order.

    If one has to complete database for an agency online, one loses.

    I did it several times years ago and there came only stupid offers which I didn’t even bother to respond. However, I do work with agencies for some specific clients. They are few and they provide me a decent living in my semi-retirement.

    There are greedy agencies and there are greedy translators. There are not greedy ones, too. Why should they fill in sheets online for more stupid offers? It would be nice to live a semi-retirement as a translator till 80 or 85 without outrages, TD, AD or regrets. It would be as well nice to die young and brilliant like Audrey Hepburn.

    The choice is not always ours, but we make the choice as long as we live, anyway.


  10. @Wenjer

    I can’t wait to be semi-retired like you.

    Just a few more years, hopefully.


  11. Steve, being “retired” is when you were tired and get tired again.

    Being “semi-retired” is when people see that you are tired again, but you just can’t let go the good money.

    In this sense, you are already semi-retired.


  12. That’s really funny, Wenjer.

    I feel semi-tired, re-tired, and semi-retired lots of time, sometime all of it at the same time.


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