Communications between humans are more and more controlled by machines. Call an information number for just about anything and you have to listen to a machine giving you several options to choose from. Sometime without the one option that you really need – to talk to a real person.
It is much more cost-effective when businesses force humans to interact with machines instead of allowing them to talk to another human right away, and put them on hold for 5, 10, or 30 minutes so that they get hung up on while on hold.
More and more communication between humans is controlled by machines. First, it was done mostly to maximize the profits, more recently, to maximize the profits and also to spy on everybody, just in case the people who spy on everybody find something interesting about these unsuspecting humans.
In addition to communications between humans by telephone, machines now also control a large amount of communication that is translated. Millions of people use machine translation every day on the Internet because it is free. They may wonder why is it that the information on a website does not seem to make sense when it is “translated” by MT, but after all, it is free, so there is not much point in getting angry about it.
The latest twist is communication between people speaking different languages that is first translated by a machine, and then massaged by a crowd of anonymous humans (sometime called “engaged volunteers”) who may or may not in fact know two languages, but who definitely have nothing better to do with their time.
Sometime these engaged humans, referred to either as translators or editors, are paid a few bucks, up to 10 dollars an hour.
I would not call them editors, let alone translators. I think that a polite and respectful terms for these thousands of humans in a crowd would be underachievers.
A new startup called Unbable (thanks so much for the link, Phyllis) offers a service enabling “to integrate translation directly into the workflow, [so that] businesses can translate all of their website’s content in a flash at $0.02 per word. …. Now translating over 30,000 words/day for over 30 customers, Unbabel’s secret sauce leverages artificial intelligence software and its stable of over 3,100 editors (or translators) to translate a website’s content from one language into its customer’s language of choice. First, its machine learning technology translates the text from source into the target language, at which point it uses its Mechanical Turk-style distribution system to assign editing tasks to the right translators, who then check the translation for errors and for stylistic inconsistencies.
Unbabel editors work remotely, via their laptops or mobile phones, on translations, which co-founder Vasco Pedro says provides the key to faster translations. This, combined with the efficiency of its task distribution and administration algorithms, provides a level of efficiency that allows editors to earn up to $10/hour.”
I am trying to visualize 3,100 human underachievers editing on their mobile phones machine translations. You probably have to be a translator to find this concept hilariously dumb. My guess is that the founder of the new service, who is now looking for seed capital in the amount of 400 thousand dollars, is not a translator. But I think that even a non-translator should know that the display on a mobile phone is so small that trying to edit a machine translation on it, while working with two languages and typing at the same time, is simply not possible. The founder of the new service probably will find the needed seed capital because people believe with religious fervor that technology absolutely can solve every problem these days, including problems with communication between people who speak different languages.
There is not a single problem in this world that cannot be solved by a clever entrepreneur with a clever algorithm.
You just need some good machine translation software, then you feed it a really large corpus of data, and then you throw the results to a really big crowd of underachievers and you will make mucho, mucho dinero in no time at all. Plus the initial 400 K, of course.
Unbable is really cool word, isn’t it? How original and imaginative! The perfect word for a service that will once for all erase the concept of the Tower of Babel from human experience in the modern world!
Will the creator of this revolutionary concept be able to make money? If you remove the letter “b” after the prefix “un”, instead of the word “Unbable”, you will get the word “Unable”.
Something like that can happen very easily when you are trying to edit text on a tiny screen of a portable phone. It takes me forever to type anything on the keyboard of my iPhone because it is such a slow process and I make lots of typos (including on this blog). And that’s when I am just typing a simple sentence, without looking at text in two languages and trying to translate or edit anything. Even on a laptop, I find it hard to translate or edit. I need a good keyboard, a comfortable chair, and most importantly, of course, a good rate.
Without a really good rate, I find it basically impossible to concentrate!
It is likely that thousands of underachieving humans in a huge crowd of fellow underachievers who don’t mind working for 1 cent a word or 5 dollars an hour – the article said that the translations would be sold for 2 cents a word, and that they would be paid up to 10 dollars an hour, which probably means that they would be paid 1 cent a word or that the real rate for them would be 5 dollars an hour – will make a lot of typos like this. Lots and lots of words like “Unable” when what they really meant was “Unbable”.
When customers who want to buy something from a website are fed machine-translated text that is then edited into one huge typo on portable phones by a crowd of human underachievers, they just might get mad at being treated this way and go to a site that they can actually understand, which would be really bad for business.
I have a feeling that after this bold adventure in MT/crowdsourcing burns through the first 400 K, Unbable will need more money again pretty quickly.
Here is a thought: controlling communication between humans by machines for higher and higher profits may have reached its limit. People are getting fed up with the whole concept. I know that I am. Could it be that there is a lot of money in a new and revolutionary approach to communication between humans: instead of relying on the machine-human interface, why not use the human-human interface as much as possible?
If you have cleverly written text that is designed to make people buy a product or a service, people who have the choice to buy it or go somewhere else, have this text translated by a real translator who specializes in that sort of thing.
It may cost more money initially, but as the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money.