I really liked this term I saw at TAUS, the Translation Automation User Society http://www.translationautomation.com/index.php. Putting the emphasis on the word “useful” is what discussions on machine translation (MT) has needed.
OK, we all know examples of MT shortcomings. My very old favourite is the MT system which translated the biblical sentence “The flesh is weak but the spirit lasts” into Russian as “The steak is rotten but the vodka is good” on the days before Glasnost. Machine translation is not perfect – but it can be very, very useful. Allowing me to understand what a Chinese web site is about without knowing a single character of Chinese is very useful indeed, especially when I am doing market research on China.
The fact is, there is not enough time – and definitely not enough money – to do human translation on even a fraction of the information that is being produced. So, if MT helps people to become aware of your message, it certainly should be considered as a tool, even if the result is not perfect. Useful is often enough.
Besides, there are quite a lot of MT systems available, both free and commercial ones, more than many might imagine. Several of them already do a good job on a specific topic, and can be improved further with special terminology. The Translation Guide at lists over 520 links to MT systems in 56 languages – sadly, the page has last been updated in 2003. Wikipedia offers a shorter, but more current list at . And for one great resource on MT issues, see Jeff Allen’s site at .