Robots and humans coexisting, can it be done peacefully?

Everybody who follows science fiction knows that if you have robots and humans living in the same world, eventually something bad happens to the humans

But we're going to chance it one more time.

Every so often, I stumble across a Web site that translates my articles into another language. I occasionally see a Japanese translation, and I think there's a Russian translation out there somewhere. In addition to those human translations, there are also robot translations available through your favorite online translation service.

Now the two can coexist.

There's a new widget on this page which generates a robot translation, but there's more to it than that. Microsoft Translator's new Collaborative Translations Framework lets you suggest improvements to the robot translation, thereby helping the robot do a better job in the future. Visitors can view the translation alternatives and vote for the best one, and all this information gets funneled back to the Web site administrator, who can select one of the translations to be the one that appears by default the next time somebody asks to translate the page.

And just because I'm so cool, the translation folks have provided a team of native speakers to act as the translation administrators for my Web site. That's good for me, because I am not really qualified to rate the quality of translations in French, or Spanish, or, um, pretty much anything other than English. (My understanding of German and Swedish gets me as far as identifying what is intelligible, but I don't claim to have a grasp of the subtleties.)

Let's hope this doesn't destroy humanity.² (But if it does, at least your participation puts you on the winning side, right?)


¹Probably because stories that go "Humans and robots work together, but then the humans turn off the robots" aren't as compelling.

²I'm pretty sure the Microsoft Translator team is not too happy that I'm suggesting that their invention may destroy humanity. Hey, I'm not saying it's going to happen. But it's possible.

Bonus chatter: If you have questions about the Collaborative Translations Framework, you can ask them on the Microsoft Translator forum.

Comments (37)
  1. John says:

    DST strikes again!

  2. Alexandre says:

    Obviously not. Robot-Raymond is already starting to rebel, posting the same article twice

    [Actually, that was Human-Raymond struggling with a dodgy Internet connection and accidentally double-posting manually. But maybe I can blame the robot… -Raymond]
  3. asleyking187 says:

    as for me, i totally agree with your idea: "Now the two can coexist"

    what an awesome post you have!

  4. nathan_works says:

    I’d argue your point 1 isn’t correct.. Asimov’s whole robot series (and its intersection with the Foundation series) provides an interesting case for why robots were turned off and where that led the human race.

    (not trying to nitpick, but was surprised that your "bad things" didn’t even pick up Asimov)

  5. Dylan says:

    You have good reason to worry.  I tried out the automatic closed captioning on youtube, and started getting comments about jeeps, missiles, national embargoes, and Iran.  All in about 10 minutes of ordinary and completely unrelated video.  At this point I’m just praying the robot armies focus on each other and the remnants are only strong enough to conquer a continent or two.

  6. Andreas says:

    Probably because stories that go "Humans and robots work together, but then the humans turn off the robots" aren’t as compelling.

    Ahh, but one of the best movies ever, Blade Runner (, is about humans turning off the robots!

  7. gedoe says:

    Bonus chatter: If you have questions about the Collaborative Translation Framework, you can ask them on the Microsoft Translator forum.

    The real question is now ofcourse can one post there in another language besides Englis (or would it even be translated into my language of choice :). Checked it ofcourse :(

  8. violet says:

    [ But maybe I can blame the robot.. ]

    And so it begins.

  9. Fuzzy says:

    They can co-exist if you’re in Japan :)

    Notice how all of those references you mentioned are Western-based. While we view technology with a certain degree of ambivalence, other cultures may view it as the key to progress.

  10. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    You find yourself in a cubicle farm. You walk along under the fluorescent light and see a progger. The progger is debugging some bits. The bits’ threads are all around the address space. The progger is trying to find what thread is corrupting the memory, but he can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Raymond?

  11. Luis G says:

    Now that I see the translator box, I must say that seems to be a much better approach than others I’ve seen at Microsoft’s web site in the past.

    I can read English (and Spanish and French, and my browser has the settings!) but the website just assumed that whenever I’m looking for an article, it should show me an automatically translated version instead of letting me decide if that’s what I actually want, even if I’m already reading something in English. And even worse, adding offense to injury, without a "show me the original version" link.

    So, finally, a plead: to anyone considering adding automatic translations to a site, please make it optional and easy to disable.

  12. Nick says:

    Well, if it is any comfort, all this has happened before and it will all happen again.

    We may as well sit back and just enjoy the ride.

  13. James says:

    Gods damnit Nick, stole my line :)

  14. Earl Harding says:

    Alexandre Grigoriev wins the internets!

  15. Piersh says:

    Recommende reading: ‘player of games’, ‘excession’ by iain m banks. Good robots :)

  16. Anonymous says:

    It is interesting how this thing translates "not actually to establish a blogging point where individuals can enrich their learns on facilitating and leveraging .NET-related activities most effectively".

    I wanted to offer suggestions, but I couldn’t think of any for some of that.  I didn’t want to tell the poor robots to start remembering the phrase "their learns".

  17. Miral says:

    Για μία, χαιρετίζω μας νέα ρομπότ άρχοντες.

    (Japanese would have been better, but the reverse-translation isn’t as good.)

  18. Dean Harding says:

    It’s actually pretty clever. I love how it does the page in parts and you can see it add the translations as it goes.

  19. violet says:

    [ Ahh, but one of the best movies ever, Blade Runner (, is about humans turning off the robots! ]

    With *guns*. It’s about humans turning off robots *with guns*. And the robots shoot *back*.

    (And, tangentially, breathe, bleed, cry and love, which is enough to make one think that maybe it’s not about robots at all. But by that measure, what is?)

  20. Miles Archer says:

    Nice one Violet.

  21. J says:

    The anonymous, behind-the-scenes, interaction between the translator utility and the user is exactly what I’ve always thought blogs needed.  Except I want it for error checking and correction.

    Say I’m reading an article here, and I see a simple typo.  I’m not going to post a comment pointing out the error (although I don’t have a problem with people who do–but it’s just not my thing if I don’t have anything to contribute about the main topic).  However, I absolutely would highlight the error, type a correction, and submit it behind the scenes so Raymond could silently correct it.

  22. Ezoe says:

    I wonder if this kind of service would works. But at least, the Microsoft Translater’s UI is nice and portable across major browsers. That’s nice.

    For curiosity, I translated this article to Japanese.

  23. Cheong says:

    I have bug report for the translator for Trad. Chinese then:

    Here’s the translation for the Archives menu on the right:

    三月 2010 2010年 (18)

    2010 年 2 月 (35)

    一月 2010 2010年 (32)

    2009 年 12 月 (40)

    2009 年 11 月 (34)

    10 月 2009 2009年 (35)

    The datetime format doesn’t align, and repeating the year part makes little sense.

  24. Cheong says:

    Also, the robot doesn’t know how to translate "probably" (可能) in the first line of footnote.

    ¹Probably 因為走"人與機器人工作在一起,但人類然後關閉機器人"的故事並不那麼令人信服。

  25. James Schend says:

    Fuzzy: There are plenty of western media where robots are just ho-hum robots. Silent Running is an excellent example– the human relies on the robots, the robots rely on the human.

    There’s also the entire Star Wars universe, and the numerous movies/TV/games it includes, where robots are basically… well, confusing as hell. In the first trilogy, they’re just sentient slaves… except even then there’s a presumably-free droid bounty hunter. Then in the video games, you have several non-slave droids and… then in the prequels you have *human* slaves and… man. I have no idea what’s going on there. (But at least the droids aren’t "evil, full stop." It’s a lot more complex than that.)

  26. Falcon says:

    I tried it with Slovenian (the most similar one available to languages other than English that I know), and it had the same problem with "Probably" – must have got confused by the superscript one at the beginning.

  27. jeremy says:

    Perhaps it’s better that the robots don’t know how to translate some words.

    …unless they just want us to think they don’t know it… oh god we’re too late!

  28. Lazbro says:

    Dear translators of the world,

    Within 10 years someone else will have gotten rich by making you redundant.

    Have a good day.

  29. El Dorko says:

    Have to say the translation to Finnish isn’t exactly… well, intelligent. It’s mostly nonsense. But at least I got a giggle out of it :-D

  30. Marquess says:


    The translatebot has no problem translating “probably.” However, it does have a problem translating “¹Probably” and “²I” but has no problem translating “’m.” Incidentally, shouldn’t there be a space after the footnote mark?

  31. bp says:

    I think the main problem with this is that comments and the comment form are also translated.

    This effectively prompts users to leave comments in their own language.

  32. Julian says:

    Apparently 40 or more years ago, IBM had an english-russian-english computerized translator. To test it, it was given "Out of sight, out of mind". After the round trip it came back as "Invisible, Insane".

    The Microsoft translator given this task returns "Dole out of mind." I’m not sure that is much of an improvement ;)

  33. Anonymous Coward says:

    [ But maybe I can blame the robot… -Raymond ]

    Translated into Japanese came out as:

    たぶん私は、ロボット… – レイモンド責めるできます

    Which isn’t very grammatical, but approximately means something like: "I’m probably a robot… I can blame Raymond"

    Your secret is revealed, Raymond!

  34. abadidea says:

    Is there any way you can change the color of the widget? International Orange just doesn’t mesh with the pleasant beige theme you’ve got. Neither does the glossy titlebar, but I know better than to expect a widget designer to pass up an opportunity to use gloss…

    [I can change the background color, but the foreground is hard-coded to white, so I can’t use beige as the background. May as well just use International Orange. -Raymond]
  35. biological robot speaking says:

    This is kinda fun.  It also really makes me appreciate how hugely difficult machine translation can get.

  36. robospeak says:

    Apparently 40 or more years ago, IBM had an english-russian-english computerized translator. To test it, it was given "Out of sight, out of mind". After the round trip it came back as "Invisible, Insane".

    That story has been around for some time, with various variations.  To be fair, that was really not a fair test as it is an idiomatic, proverbial expression that has a lot more meaning than the mere sum of the component words.  In fact, the very round-trip translation thereof pretty much show you how idiomatic it is, showing how you very much cannot decompose this particular phrase into any individual components to be separately translated and recombined.


    More typically, the most common errors in machine translation is the disambiguation problem:  the same word can have many different senses of meaning.  The fully disambiguated meaning often depends on a combination of context, grammar, phrase structure, and possibly word choices of surrounding words, with obviously very different "rules" or preferences in different languages.  Furthermore, in one language those multiple meanings may map to different words.  At the same time, things that need different words in source language may map to same word in target language.

    It’s easy to see how these kinds of errors quickly compound as you go from translation to translation, round-trip or otherwise.

  37. Olivier says:

    "Robots and humans coexisting, can it be done peacefully?" : certainly not. I visited the Japanese blog, and the only thing I could understand was that I’m a "boodly fool" and others stupid things.

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