Me Translate Pretty One Day

“Spanish to English? French to Russian? Computers haven’t been up to the task. But a New York firm with an ingenious algorithm and a really big dictionary is finally cracking the code.”

Evan Ratliff in Wired:

Ff_210_translate_f_1Jaime Carbonell, chief science officer of Meaningful Machines, hunches over his laptop in the company’s midtown Manhattan offices, waiting for it to decode a message from the perpetrators of a grisly terrorist attack. Running software that took four years and millions of dollars to develop, Carbonell’s machine – or rather, the server farm it’s connected to a few miles away – is attempting a task that has bedeviled computer scien­tists for half a century. The message isn’t encrypted or scrambled or hidden among thousands of documents. It’s simply written in Spanish: “Declaramos nuestra responsabilidad de lo que ha ocurrido en Madrid, justo dos años y medio después de los atentados de Nueva York y Washington.”

I brought along the text, taken from a Spanish newspaper transcript of a 2004 al Qaeda video claiming responsibility for the Madrid train bombings, to test Meaningful Machines’ automated translation software. The brainchild of a quirky former used-car salesman named Eli Abir, the company has been designing the system in secret since just after 9/11. Now the application is ready for public scrutiny, on the heels of a research paper that Carbonell – who is also a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and head of the school’s Language Technologies Institute – presented at a conference this summer. In it, he asserts that the company’s software represents not only the most accurate Spanish-to-English translation system ever created but also a major advance in the field of machine translation.

More here.