In Douglas Adams‘ 1978 science fiction comedy “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” he joked that an alien creature called a Babel fish, “by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.” Fortunately, unlike in Adams’ absurdist pan-galactic civilization, improving communication and understanding between people and cultures is always beneficial, and it is increasingly becoming a necessity in our globalized world. While it is unlikely that we will find a biological analogue to the Babel fish, the notion that we could translate words from one language to another automatically has long been a compelling one, and in recent years we have looked to computer technology to provide the solution.
Many of the ideas underlying machine translation (MT) have been around for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the middle of the last century that the field of “machine translation” truly came into being. In the 1950s and 60s, interest in MT was fuelled by the cold war, with much of the funding for research coming from the US government. Computer technology was still in its infancy, however, and progress was slow. By the mid-1960s, confidence in machine translation had waned and much of the government funding dried up. Founded in 1968, SYSTRAN was one of the first companies in the nascent MT industry, and it played an important role in the development of machine translation technology over the next few decades.
The field of machine translation was revitalized in the 1980s, as the power and price of computer hardware began to reach a point where machine translation technology could become more widely available and commercially successful. In 1996, SYSTRAN was the first company to offer free machine translation on the Internet. Later, both BabelFish (named after Adams’ fictional creature) and Google’s language tools were powered by SYSTRAN’s technology, although Google began using its own MT system in 2007. SYSTRAN successfully weathered the dotcom bubble, and in 2014 it was acquired by CSLi to form the world’s top multilingual machine translation solutions provider. Today, SYSTRAN prides itself on its long history of innovation in the field of MT, and it continues to invest heavily in R&D to ensure its future success.
SDL Trados is another machine translation success story. Originally developed by a German language service provider in the 1990s, Trados was acquired by UK-based localization giant SDL in 2005. The software scored a major coup in 1997 when Microsoft began using it for internal localization, and it has only grown in popularity since. In 2004, the World Bank estimated that Trados held a 75% share of the global market for computer assisted translation (CAT) software, and it remains so popular today that it is frequently taught in schools. In May of 2016, SDL reported that its machine translation engines were translating over 20 billion words each month, and in November of 2016 they released a new version of SDL Trados with a self-learning MT engine that remembers users’ edits and includes fragment matching technology.
At CSOFT, all of our translators are proficient with CAT software because we believe that the collaboration between adaptive machine translation systems and talented, professional linguists is the future of translation. The world remains absolutely full of things that need to be translated, and our mission is to use every tool at our disposal to stay in the vanguard of the localization industry. To learn more about CSOFT and how our team of translators and machine translation tools can help your reach new markets, visit our website today!