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robertogreco : engineers   5

Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem? - NYTimes.com
"One Enlightenment aspiration that the science-­fiction industry has long taken for granted, as a necessary intergalactic conceit, is the universal translator. In a 1967 episode of “Star Trek,” Mr. Spock assembles such a device from spare parts lying around the ship. An elongated chrome cylinder with blinking red-and-green indicator lights, it resembles a retracted light saber; Captain Kirk explains how it works with an off-the-cuff disquisition on the principles of Chomsky’s “universal grammar,” and they walk outside to the desert-­island planet of Gamma Canaris N, where they’re being held hostage by an alien. The alien, whom they call The Companion, materializes as a fraction of sparkling cloud. It looks like an orange Christmas tree made of vaporized mortadella. Kirk grips the translator and addresses their kidnapper in a slow, patronizing, put-down-the-gun tone. The all-­powerful Companion is astonished.

“My thoughts,” she says with some confusion, “you can hear them.”

The exchange emphasizes the utopian ambition that has long motivated universal translation. The Companion might be an ion fog with coruscating globules of viscera, a cluster of chunky meat-parts suspended in aspic, but once Kirk has established communication, the first thing he does is teach her to understand love. It is a dream that harks back to Genesis, of a common tongue that perfectly maps thought to world. In Scripture, this allowed for a humanity so well ­coordinated, so alike in its understanding, that all the world’s subcontractors could agree on a time to build a tower to the heavens. Since Babel, though, even the smallest construction projects are plagued by terrible delays.

Translation is possible, and yet we are still bedeviled by conflict. This fallen state of affairs is often attributed to the translators, who must not be doing a properly faithful job. The most succinct expression of this suspicion is “traduttore, traditore,” a common Italian saying that’s really an argument masked as a proverb. It means, literally, “translator, traitor,” but even though that is semantically on target, it doesn’t match the syllabic harmoniousness of the original, and thus proves the impossibility it asserts.

Translation promises unity but entails betrayal. In his wonderful survey of the history and practice of translation, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” the translator David Bellos explains that the very idea of “infidelity” has roots in the Ottoman Empire. The sultans and the members of their court refused to learn the languages of the infidels, so the task of expediting communication with Europe devolved upon a hereditary caste of translators, the Phanariots. They were Greeks with Venetian citizenship residing in Istanbul. European diplomats never liked working with them, because their loyalty was not to the intent of the foreign original but to the sultan’s preference. (Ottoman Turkish apparently had no idiom about not killing the messenger, so their work was a matter of life or death.) We retain this lingering association of translation with treachery."



"One computational linguist said, with a knowing leer, that there is a reason we have more than 20 translations in English of “Don Quixote.” It must be because nobody ever gets it right. If the translators can’t even make up their own minds about what it means to be “faithful” or “accurate,” what’s the point of worrying too much about it? Let’s just get rid of the whole antiquated fidelity concept. All the Sancho Panzas, all the human translators and all the computational linguists are in the same leaky boat, but the machinists are bailing out the water while the humans embroider monograms on the sails.

But like many engineers, the computational linguists are so committed to the power and craftsmanship of their means that they tend to lose perspective on whose ends they are advancing. The problem with human translators, from the time of the Phanariots, is that there is always the possibility that they might be serving the ends of their bosses rather than the intent of the text itself. But at least a human translator asks the very questions — What purpose is this text designed to serve? What aims are encoded in this language? — that a machine regards as entirely beside the point.

The problem is that all texts have some purpose in mind, and what a good human translator does is pay attention to how the means serve the end — how the “style” exists in relationship to “the gist.” The oddity is that belief in the existence of an isolated “gist” often obscures the interests at the heart of translation. Toward the end of the marathon, I asked a participant why he chose to put his computer-­science background to the service of translation. He mentioned, as many of them did, a desire to develop tools that would be helpful in earthquakes or war. Beyond that, he said, he hoped to help ameliorate the time lag in the proliferation of international news. I asked him what he meant.

“There was, for example, a huge delay with the Germanwings crash.”

It wasn’t the example I was expecting. “But what was that delay, like 10 or 15 minutes?”

He cocked his head. “That’s a huge delay if you’re a trader.”

I didn’t say anything informational in words, but my body or face must have communicated a response the engineer mistranslated as ignorance. “It’s called cross-­lingual arbitrage. If there’s a mine collapse in Spanish, you want to make a trade as quickly as possible."
via:tealtan  translation  language  languages  words  davidbellos  technology  2015  engineers  computing  gideonlewis-kraus 
june 2015 by robertogreco
The Two Cultures - Wikipedia
"The Two Cultures is the title of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow.[1][2] Its thesis was that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into the titular two cultures — namely the sciences and the humanities — and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems."
via:charlieloyd  polarization  twocultures  multi  multidisciplinary  crosspollination  crossdisciplinary  departmentalization  departments  thoughtsegregation  interdisciplinary  interdisciplinarity  1959  theory  engineers  science  humanities  thetwocultures  cpsnow 
may 2012 by robertogreco
designswarm thoughts » I make things: mapping the creative industries
"As I work my way through my notes on the event, I also wanted to start to unpick who was using the word “make” and what they were making. This is a first stab and not really about creating collaborative connections yet. I might also be missing some things, do let me know. In this, I think we can see where the “creative industries” overlap and therefore where skill sets overlap. This also proves perhaps that one should be quite careful with using any one term. Designer, artists, engineer…when you look close enough, can become one and the same."
mapping  maps  web  software  video  film  developers  engineers  hacking  crafts  craft  engineering  marloestenbhomer  adrianbowyer  brepettis  glvo  creativity  design  alexandradeschamps-sonsino  making  make 
january 2012 by robertogreco
Education for Well-being » The Crying Engineer
"So one day I came upon this guy Paul, this engineer, this very reserved guy and he was crying. He was looking at a mangrove plant crying, standing there, the tears coming down his eyes. And I said, “What’s going on?” And he said, “Why have I never learned in all of my education about mangroves? Why don’t I know or have ever considered that these guys are a solar-powered desalination plant? They have their roots in salt water and are living on freshwater.” He said, “We use 900 pounds per square inch to force water against a membrane to get salt out of it and we wonder why it clogs. And this is silent, solar powered, desalination.”

He said, “Tell me how it works.”

Engineers are trying to make tools for living–technology. Nature has technologies too, only engineers never learn about nature’s technologies. They learn how to domesticate nature, learn sort of how to use nature when we need it but they don’t learn how to learn from nature."
janinebenyus  biomimicry  design  engineering  engineers  learning  nature  janejacobs  conservation  mangroves  biomimetics  taxonomy  biology  animals  plants 
september 2010 by robertogreco
Near Future Laboratory » Features Aren’t A Measure Of Innovation
"For some reason lists of features are legible to accountants & engineers who often have the keys to the car & decide what gets done."'

"Innovating, only not by stacking lists of features & parts & stuff — but at least by starting with ways of creating opportunities & experiences that lead people in new, unexpected directions. That make space for experiences that go beyond expectation. Basically creating new user experiences. I don’t think you do that just by creating new features & bolting on new technologies."

[Some quick thoughts below, but more here: http://robertogreco.tumblr.com/post/916738627/more-opportunities-not-more-features ]

[Love this. It speaks to what we do at schools that empower learners by creating a flexible learning environment, not adding more classes, more programs. We do "less" in terms of numbers, but more in terms of freedom & self-direction, helping them give themselves more options. One point missing: it's not only accountant & engineer decision-making people that need help seeing the benefit of fewer features, but also number-comparing users (parents in our case).]
tcsnmy  julianbleecker  features  featurecreep  featuritis  moreisnotbetter  less  simplicity  experience  empowerment  design  designthinking  engineers  accountants  numbers  technology  unschooling  deschooling  education  learning  innovation  focus  lcproject  cv 
august 2010 by robertogreco

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