Finding Quiet Time

The conference has closed, my mind is packed with notions as I rush for the taxi to the airport. Why do we do it? It seems so efficient at the time to book a flight to sweep us back to normality as soon as possible. Share a taxi, good idea. Relax and chat about the conference, Oh yes that’s a thought! Did you do that? Um clever!

Too soon the airport, pay the man, stuff the receipt away. Now SECURITY, soul-less queuing for the same pointless search. Time bleeds away. Fortunately my fellow conference delegate joins me in the queue, we continue our conversation. Through at last, ignore the shops, get a coffee and sit down for a think. My new friend has wandered off to the shops and his boarding gate.

Flying used to be straight-forward; obtain a ticket, walk through the airport, and stroll onto the plane. Travel was efficient, comfortable, flexible, even caring. We all know what happened; now it’s a struggle.

Language technology is still at the struggle stage. There are translation services available to the internet generation. Translation services fall into three categories; gisted and free, commercial and fit for purpose or traditional and expensive. The conference heralded new technologies; SMT was breaking out from the labs and finding its way into new niche translation companies. Narrow domain SMT engines were sprouting up like spring flowers. Great to see, like the birth of air transport, MT was diversifying into commerce. True it is held together with wire and canvas but it was on its way.

Finally, the flight is called, another queue, further inspection, then, airborne. People around me comment on their flight in terms of delays and leg-room. I look at the engines, and imagine all the working parts; science and technology folded to make it fly, safely. We in MT have a long way to go before our customers comment only on convenience and not effectiveness. Between science and service, we have technology. This is our space to fill. We have to know the science and anticipate the use cases, then we can create the technology. I’m often asked what use is this? Why do you research that? We need our customers and our critics to keep us honest and properly aligned. Without a vision of the application, there is little direction for innovation. Good ideas on their knees looking for a use-case are a sad sight and even sadder is a science scrambling for a role in the world. The excitement of innovation is bridging that gap; bridging the knowledge and the need, the science and the service.

To most people technology sounds cold and impersonal, but it really people who drive development, convert insight into action, produce the data, design the tools and build the technology. Science, technology and service rest on people, directed, motivated and supported with appropriate resource.

Coming in to land, back to the everyday. Don’t let the necessary mundane smother your flickering flame of innovation . We have an opportunity to provide the world with automated translation in a myriad of applications. Who knows where it will lead? It can’t be a bad place if people can understand each other better. From the rich West to the impoverished Rest, we can provide the means to communicate. It deserves our attention. It needs our contributions.

Things to do:

Optimise MT for internal customer needs …….

Contribute to Translators Without Borders
Work with Rosetta
Brainstorm those use cases …….

Build those applications …….

Reflection. It has only been a few hours since we climbed into the taxi. I must get more quiet time, and get off the treadmill.

January 28, 2011

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