Microsoft Translator Team Blog

News and Views from the Microsoft Translator Team in Microsoft Research.

December, 2008

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  • Microsoft Translator Team Blog

    A metal can (can’t it?): Guest Blog


    Lee Schwartz is a Computational Linguist on the Microsoft Translator team.  Today’s guest blog is about getting lost in (machine) translation…


    Recently, a user seemed upset with the translation he received for a metal paint can.  No wonder.  When he translated this into Spanish, he got un metal pintura puede, which means a metal paint is able to.  And, what is that supposed to mean?  But, then again, what is "meaning" to a machine translation system anyway?  Does anything mean anything?  Or, is the computer just seeing words in combination in one language and corresponding words in another language?  And is it assuming that because one sequence is used in the source language when another is used in the target, one is the translation of another?  Even if the machine translation program is just seeing words in combination, wouldn't it have seen paint can before and know that the can in this context is some kind of container?   Then, again, can you be sure that the computer behind the MT program knows anything about paint cans, or has seen those two words in combination?  Why do you think it would have?  But, giving it the benefit of the doubt, and assuming it knows all about paint cans, or at least has seen the string paint can a lot, how is it supposed to know how to translate a metal paint can?   Maybe the computer has seen something like The metal film on one side of the plate...  may be obtained by ...spraying a metal paint or ....  

    Ah ha!  So there really are metal paints.  And, if there are metal paints, why can't a metal paint can be the answer to a metal paint can, can't it?  Well, it is just not likely that when you have the words paint and can in sequence, that can means be able to.  But then again it is just not likely that can means anything but be able to.  I guess we can say things and think things that are just not likely.  I can easily understand what A metal paint can can, can't it? means.  The computer might just think that I inadvertently typed can twice.  Certainly, if it learns from real data, say from the Web, it will see can can a lot.  Maybe that is why it won't translate He did the can can correctly.  But really, what is English doing with so many types of cans anyway?  We can even can worms, but we won’t open that one now.   

  • Microsoft Translator Team Blog

    Translation User Experience: Guest Blog


    Andrea Jessee is the Senior Program Manager on the Microsoft Translator team in charge of the user experience.  Today's guest blog is how the team thinks about user experience with translation. 

    Creating a better user experience

    We have shown the suite of Microsoft Translation services at various shows and tech events. The number one question we get is: Show me how it translates <some interesting example sentence>. Sometimes we do well, other times the system behavior is (probably) as expected: meaning – we choke on the (possibly highly ambiguous) sentence and produce something funny. We know that the hard problem of Machine Translation has not been solved yet. We are working tirelessly on translation quality improvements and expansion, but it remains a hard nut to crack – for anyone in the field. Why – if we know it – don’t we wait for the major break-through instead of releasing a service that is far from perfect? The answer is simple: We recognize the growing need for such a service. In this era of the ever-expanding internet which is blissfully ignoring any geographic borders, in times where information retrieval must cross language boundaries to ensure access to the bigger picture, in recognition of the fact that English is a dominating language in our “world-wide-web”, we simply must respond to the resulting needs today. And so we do … like other respectable providers in the field, we offer a free service to the best of our current technological and scientific abilities.

    We take it one step further

    In addition to our investment in the core translation technology, the Microsoft Translator team has spent a significant amount of effort on the creation of a user experience which acknowledges and mitigates current limitations of raw translation quality, maximizing its usefulness to our users. This is especially highlighted in our distinguished Bilingual Viewer: Its commitment to provide ease of access to original and translation language and its one-click views customizations, all enhanced by parallel highlighting, synchronized scrolling and navigation functions has received raving reviews.

    A user-friendly UI concept is only one of our approaches to bridge the gap between a current need for our service and the current limitations. In focus groups we have learned that ease of access to our service is being expected from a wide range of other Microsoft properties. Hence, a seamless integration into other communication and authoring tools became a vital part of our mission to create a better user experience for the consumers of o translation service.

    The Windows Live Translator toolbar button gives immediate access to the Bilingual Viewer experience from wherever you are on the web. Our friendly Translation Bot TBot can either translate text for you using the Windows Live Messenger, or serve as your personal chat interpreter between you and your international buddies. Internet Explorer 8 has the translation service right built into its Accelerators, offering text or full page translations with as much as a mouse hover or click. If you wish to use our translation service directly from Office Word, you can do this today without the need to wait for a new Office release. And yes – full document translation is delivered in bilingual view. Of course, the same functionality is also available to you in Office Outlook, if you have chosen to display it in Office Word mode. We also would like site owners to benefit from our offering if they’d like to make their pages available with free translations. A simple copy/paste action is all it takes to Add our web page translator to your site.

    In further acknowledgement of the limitations of machine translation, we also offer a direct link to an affordable professional on-demand translation team, delivering human translations sometimes in a matter of hours.

    And we are not done yet … please stay tuned for new releases of more and better features, experiences, and integration scenarios. And please do continue to post your wishes to our blog. We read all your posts carefully and will factor in your feedback in the planning of our next design steps…

    Thank you!

    Andrea Jessee, MSR-MT User Experience PM

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