Machine Translation, Blogging, and Bird Flu

With all the brouhaha over Google’s recent “demo” of their machine translation (MT) system, I’ve become interested in the way that MT is actually used in the blogosphere.

Here’s one interesting example:

Notes from the world of wildlife disease: Over 8000 Bird Flu Deaths in Gangcha County Qinghai China?

Dr. Niman is relying on a machine translation from a Chinese language website where anyone can post. As Crawford Kilian notes, this sounds like Nostradamus.

I think some perspective is necessary.

And so on. What interests me here is the fact that Dr. Niman, whoever he is, is making a medical statement based on machine translation. Pretty surprising.

So what we’re looking at here is someone who apparently has expertise in wildlife diseases criticizing another expert’s discussion of the output of an MT system (SYSTRAN, natch).

But Dr. Niman’s article says that the content has been edited. Here’s what we don’t know:

  • What editing was done
  • How much editing was done
  • Whether the editor has any expertise in Chinese

That said, I imagine that this translation is more or less okay. I don’t doubt that Systran can translate Chinese numerals accurately, or the names of animals (assuming that they’re in the database).

Nonetheless, it’s sort of surprising that this MT’d content is showing up, for instance, as “news” in Google News, without human expertise in the loop. (Blogs have also begun picking up the story.)

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