Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Crowd Sourcing and free translation

Crowd Sourcing and free translation I have just finished watching a conference by Luis von Ahn and its sent my head spinning, the main reason being I am the owner of a translation services company. I have briefly looked into the topic and the implications are astounding.
We saw the fist example of Ahn´s work in the area of crowd sourcing with the security utility reCATPTCHA which digitizes documents by getting users to transcribe words that the OCR software is not sure of.

Now the crowd sourcing guru plans to use the same concept to translate the World Wide Web via a free language learning portal. Here are some interesting statistics about language learning, there are 1.2 billion people learning a foreign language around the world and in the US alone over 5 million paid over $500 for language learning software last year.

These statistics alone present a very valid case for the success of the language portal and thus ensuring the success of the crowd sourcing translation project but the consequences are severe for the translation and Language Learning sectors. Just on a side note, won’t the final system translations have to be proofed anyway?

Most IT companies with significant interactive crowd sourcing resources at their disposal tend to be very successful and argue that such a system is free, doesn’t discriminate the poor while adding value to the time, otherwise wasted. They invest in language learning which all sounds very good but let´s face it folks, most successful IT companies must have an ulterior motive. Apart from this crowd sourcing translation portal destroying the e-learning language sector overnight one has to ask the question whether they will begin to use the resource commercially and destroy the translation services sector as well.

For instance let's take a look at Google's track record. Up to five years ago there were no more than three to four Google adds per organic search, displaying on the side of the page. Now we have more adds than organic searches displaying on the side, bottom and top of the page. Of course, Google addwords is the main source of revenue for Google, it’s a business so we shouldn't complain!

In the case of the digitization project Google has a serious argument in that it would make millions of out-of-print books broadly available online but the counter argument was that it would give Google exclusive rights to profit from millions of orphan works and a complete library nobody else could compete with giving Google a monopoly status to name it´s price while also tightening it´s stranglehold on the online search market. Thankfully a New York judge ruled against the settlement google had proposed on the grounds of the good old 300 year old legal concept copyright. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/technology/23google.html

Bearing in mind that machine translations of Google still have a long way to go I think that the free language portal won´t be the last in a line of crowd sourcing gimmicks to translate the web and also strongly believe that they will get there sooner rather than later. However, we are safe for now given we can fall back on copyright, God only knows how many copyright infringements there are already in the google corpus of translations when we also consider that most translations are derivative works! In 2011 Twitter successfully translated its portal into 65 languages, however, this differs from the aforementioned case in that the corpus of twitter text is their own and does not infringe copyright rules!

I am looking forward to a lot of legal wrangles between google and the courts worldwide, the whole crowd sourcing translation issue appears to me to be a legal ticking time bomb!

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Mark Kieran, CEO, One Stop Shop Translations

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