A longish Observer story by Tim Adams about Google Translate has some interesting discussion and quotes, but in my current befuddled state (brought about by excessive copyediting), what I most enjoyed was this (probably apocryphal) anecdote:
The impetus for Google’s translation machine can be traced, corporate legend has it, to a particular meeting at the company’s California headquarters in 2004. One of the search engine’s founders, Sergey Brin, had received a fan letter from a user in South Korea. He understood that the message was in praise of the innovative scope of his company, but when Brin ran it through the machine translation service that Google had then licensed it read: “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!”
I was, however, annoyed by the final quote from the much-hyped Douglas Hofstadter, who “has been among the most trenchant critics of the hype around Google Translate. He argues that the ability to exist within language and move between languages, to understand tone and cultural resonance, and jokes and wordplay and idiom are the things that makes us most human, and most individual…” Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t help me when I’m staring at a passage in Turkish or Korean or some other language that is a complete mystery to me. Google Translate does. Even Hofstadter gets around to admitting “I suppose that we will all bow to the pressures to use it at some level, but it will never get the flavour of phrases.” Don’t be so goddamn grudging, man. Google isn’t going to put you out of business.