Friday, October 31, 2008

Rise of Machines: Fun, Fact & the Future

This little rant is from a recent conversation with a language engineer here on Ibadan campus - by recent, I mean two hours ago, today - about the future of machine translation technology and African languages. What brought the discussion was a suggestion by the humble blogger that humans are not ever going to be dispensable in this coming technological future. My interlocutor believed otherwise, quoting from empirical and research progresses that suggest that although not "yet uhuru" for machine translations, in about ten years or less, we'd get to a position where humans would be totally dispensible in language tranlation. In short, if the language technicians and scientists ask the right questions, we'd soon get to a place where machines would actually be able to translate nuanced and culture-contexted texts from African languages into English. He said: "the question is not whether/or, it is how soon, and what are we doing to make it come to pass". TA being his quintissential self, I let his arguements pass. He's one such linguists at the fore-front of African technology initiatives in language. And as surely as there are so many advantages of language technology, the human angle (yea I said it out loud) should not be overlooked. i.e the future of men when/if it ever happens that machines take over their work and capabilities.

Looking back, as much as I agree with the eventuality that many human translators will be out of business soon, I decided to retain the right to laugh at the future instances of machine foibles and flops (like that of inserted photo, culled from blogamundo). And rather than sweat to hasten the coming apocalypse for human translators, I can also poke fun from the safety of my still nuanced African linguo.

I am a trained linguist, yes, but I am also many other things besides. My choice for this discipline is somewhat of a "rebellious" association which equips me with tools and privilege with which to poke fun at my own foibles and that of my environment. In short, I can now consider myself a cunning linguist. (no pun, please).

More in my recent post at Instablogs

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