Google Vice President Dr Vint Cerf has warned about relying too much on the accuracy of translation from Google Translate. He should know: not only is he Google’s “Chief Internet Evangelist” but he is widely regarded as one of the “fathers” of the internet.
I’ve discussed some of Google Translate’s limitations before, not least this broadside from a Cambridge don. While noting that Google’s statistical translation methods provided better results than other types of machine translation, Cerf says:
“I’d be really careful about having any kind of a sensitive debate with someone either spoken or written using these translations.”
To be fair, this is not shock news. Google has always said this, or at least things along these lines. It is only others who have assumed that, as a Google product, Google Translate must be infallable. This assumption is a compliment to Google and their transformation of the way we use the internet. However the Google Translate help page says quite clearly:
“Even today’s most sophisticated software, however, doesn’t approach the fluency of a native speaker or possess the skill of a professional translator.”
That said, sometimes Google Translate is just plain wrong. I was recently looking at the Google Translation of a proposed car hire where it had translated Euros as US Dollars. Um, no, different currency … and a potential nasty shock at the hire desk!
In his recent comments (reported in today’s The Australian: “Search giant admits translations can be lacking”), Dr Cerf said there were problems with interpreting the meaning of the same phrase in British and American English, let alone phrases in different languages.
During his visit to The Australian‘s Sydney office last week, Dr Cerf added:
“If we were going from zero to 10, we would be about five, that’s better than almost everybody else.
“But I can tell you that I read newspapers from other countries by using Google Translate and at least I’m getting a pretty good gist of what’s being said and if I need to know more I’d go to a language speaker, an expert speaker.”
Needless to say, I’d second that.