Posted by: patenttranslator | April 21, 2019

Welcome to the Sleazy, Creepy Town of Language Tools and Artificial Intelligence

Last month I bought a gadget that I needed for something. Like all gadgets these days, it was made in China and because I now live in Central Europe, it came with assembly instructions in quite a few languages.

I did not really need the instructions, it was a simple tool and the assembly was self-explanatory enough, but professional curiosity overcame me as I started comparing the quality of the translations.

I keep doing things like that, even though I am officially retired and even though it is a waste of time. You can take a translator out of translation, but you can’t take the translation out of the translator.

The English was fine, the German was fine, but then when I took a look at the Czech, I could not believe my eyes. The “Czech translation” was not in a language spoken anywhere on this planet, or in this galaxy, or any other galaxy in this universe or any other universe. It was a few hundred units representing words, but the only thing in these assembly instructions that made any sense were a few English words, surrounded by a forest of nonsensical garbage composed of vowels and consonants.

What probably happened was that a translation agency, perhaps in China, perhaps in Moldova, perhaps in India, decided to have the instructions translated into major, important languages by actual human translators with a pulse, but “small” languages like Czech, Polish or Hungarian were simply run by a machine translation program …. and that was it. To save money, no bilingual human with an actual brain was even used to “check the translation”, so that nobody noticed that a mathematical formula used by the machine translation program somehow ran amok and created a non-existing language.

After all, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, we are talking what, ??? …. 45 million people at the most, right? Who cares about them. Let them learn English, or German, or freakin’ Chinese if they want a real translation.

This is the state the art of  the art typical of so-called translation industry nowadays, where so-called “language tools” are venerated as holy cows because they result in extreme efficiency combined with very low cost when humans are no longer needed for the translation.

But it’s not just relatively unimportant instruction manuals that are now translated with new techniques based on super-duper artificial intelligence and technology that truly deserves the moniker “destructive”, so popular these days.

Although I don’t know the dude, I received the email below from him three times so far, twice as a regular email, and once as a request for price quote that came through the price quote link on my website:


“Hello Team,

This is with regards to a Patent Translation Crosscheck / Editing service that we have received from one of our existing client. This is a huge client with high volume of Patent translation Crosscheck / Editing requirement. They would be providing us a constant source of business on a monthly basis.   

The language pair requirement for these patents are Japanese to English. These patents would be translated by the client and sent across. I have attached a sample translated document that was sent by the client as a reference. We would request you to go through the file and comment on the overall quality of the translation. Based on your quality analysis of the file, kindly let us know which service is most appropriate i.e. translation check + English editing or Only English Editing is sufficient.

Hope to hear from you within at the earliest, as we have to get back to the client within 24 hours.”


Of course I ignore similar requests, which I have been receiving from all kinds of places lately.

Based on the address on its website, the agency is based in UK, but when I Googled the unusual name of the person who sent me the thing, I saw that he was really based in India. That is not unusual these days, many translation agencies with an address in a Western country, and UK in particular, are in fact based somewhere else.

So what would be my job, actually, if I accepted this mission from this translation agency, if the translation was really bad, or better yet, if it was a result of another algorithm run amok, a likely occurrence given how efficient the so-called translation industry is these days?

How would one fix something like that? “These patents would be translated by the client and sent across.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? The whole concept is preposterous. I suppose my role would be to “validate” these “translations by the client” so that they could be used in the court of law as real translations? And the client would of course decide what terms would be used in them and what exactly the translation would say, for example in patent litigation.

That would work perfectly, wouldn’t it? Except that it would be fraud.

But it’s not just the language tools celebrated by the “translation industry” that is rapidly changing our world, and not for better. The entire world in which we live now is one big creepy, sleazy town built for efficiency at all cost.

I read in a newspaper that a new work by Antonín Dvořák was recently discovered. Unfortunately, it was not finished, in fact, it was barely begun, just a short musical theme jotted on a few pieces of paper that were ultimately thrown away by Dvořák, probably when he realized that the thing is so bad that it cannot be saved.

But since a “newly found musical work” of  Antonín Dvořák is highly marketable and has an important monetary value, somebody decided to resurrect it and have the thing finished “based on the entirety of Dvořák’s work” by using artificial intelligence, the article said. This somebody stands to make a lot of money if this creepy scheme works, and Antonín Dvořák cannot defend himself because he is safely dead.

Welcome to the creepy, sleazy town of modern world, where nothing is what it seems and where everything will in a few years be infected by Artificial Intelligence to a degree that will render this world virtually unrecognizable.



  1. I was to post my comments to your “A degree in languages can be valuable”, but then you post this wonderful piece!

    There was a blog post of someone else, stating “Google Translate is a manifestation of Wittgenstein’s theory of language”. I was to ask about your opinion about this blog post, because I had been indeed about to study AI-translation when I came to Germany fpr I was inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein. I have been thinking about “understanding” (meaning) in his way as he said, “Try not to think of understanding as a ‘mental process’ at all. — For that is the expression which confuses you. But ask yourself: in what sort of case, in what kind of circumstances, do we say, “Now I know how to go on,” when, that is, the formula has occurred to me?” However, I quitted the idea very soon and had a normal study of linguistics and informatics. Well, I have never been a brilliant student and ended up translating anything my clients would ask me to translate whatever my small brain “understand” or “know how to go on.” This is my life of failures in a nutshell.

    As a translator, I know that I might have translated “a maid” to “a virgin” and so that people got their Cathédrale de Notre-Dame for centuries. Not only such kind of errors, but also other sorts of errors had happened and would happen in my translations, so that I appreciate reading you blog posts and always learn something to widen my small brain.

    But now, I chanced this piece of blog post, “Google Translate is a manifestation of Wittgenstein’s theory of language” ( and wonder if I was wrong to quit the study and missed a good opportunity to make money (so much money as Google or Microsoft Ware do).

    If you happened to have read Wittgenstein´s “Philosophical Investigations”, please give me some opinion about the AI-approach of processing languages, not to talk about “translation.”

    Thank you, Steve!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for your input, Wenjer.

    I tried to read the blog post linked in your comment, but I’m afraid I did not really understand it much.

    Anyway, my personal philosophy is, to hell with machine translation, except when I get to use it for my sordid purposes, without telling anybody about it, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, Steve, we used to think of “understanding” as a mental process (i.e., intelligence), but sometimes we find ourselves doing our jobs like a no-brain robot-translaor. (I hate to confess and admit it.) But I have been wondering for a long time how this could happen.

    I worked as a reviewer at a translation agency for sometime and then I tried post-editing for a while to find out that reviewing a human translation is very often similar to post-editing a machine-translation.

    Words or characters tagged with the so-called vectors to be chosen by AI machine are very often correct because their appearances under certain circumstances are most probable. With the probabilities of their appearances the machine decide to choose their usage (almost according to their meanings). This is what “Google Translate is a manifestation of Wittgenstein’s theory of language” talks about with a simple example of “king” and “queen.”

    There are some indices showing that human reasoning is often similar to machine learning applying Baye´s theorem and other rules like what Turing did to decipher the German Enigma codes. MT is not optimal till now, but it is somehow promising even with languages like Chinese and Japanese or even slavic languages.

    As a human translator. i surely will advocate for HT instead of MT. As a reasoning machine (translating robot), I do hope that MT could be improved and stop presenting us machine spews any longer. Well, Gurgle Translate is turning to be a HAMT (human aided machine translation) machine now, “a manifestation of Wittgenstein’s theory of language,” indeed. We never know to where Gurgle will lead us. Industrial Revolution lasted 2 centuries to upgrade to 2.0 and now we are facing Industrial Revolution 4.0! How could we have known that the Berlin Wall would fall in 1989 and Soviet Union would fall apart so soon? Things change, quicker and accelerate.

    However, to make a living as a human (robot) translator, we do know some tricks to do our jobs, to heaven or to hell with machine Translation.


  4. The way to achieving a moderate but satisfying success and a pretty good income as a human translator in the yellow ocean created for human translators at this point (, is not easy, but not really that complicated either, given that even I was able to do it for more than three decades … and I ain’t no genius.

    1. Make sure that you don’t work for the modern version of the “translation industry”, which means that you have to figure out how to find direct clients for yourself instead of being a slave to the “industry”.

    2. Find a profitable translation niche where “the most likely translation”, which is the best that machine translation will ever be able to achieve, is not enough.

    3. Don’t worry about machine translation, use it instead as a tool that can sometime speed up the translation process for you when it is used correctly, but only as a tool.

    That is what I have been doing for many years, and since it has worked for me despite the many changes in the “industry”, it should work for other people too.

    Oh, and don’t forget to pay your Social Security taxes, or whatever the pension system is called where you happen to be living, so that you could eventually retire from the dog-eat-dog environment created for us courtesy of the “translation industry”.

    This philosophy is what I have been saying on my silly blog for the last ten years.

    If you can’t do it because it’s too much for you, I think you’re screwed.

    Liked by 1 person

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