Program races past human translators

March 22, 2002

A spin-off company formed by a language expert at Heriot-Watt University has created an automated translation system that aims to meet the software industry's need for high-speed, high-quality translation.

John Laffling, who is on leave of absence from his senior lectureship in German at Heriot-Watt's School of Languages, is chief executive of Verbalis Ltd, which has just completed a pilot project involving a translation for Sun Microsystems California.

The automated system translated 500,000 words of a German software manual into English in ten days. It would have taken a human translator about 200 days.

An evaluation by Sun found that 87 per cent was of near-perfect human translation quality, with 26 per cent requiring revision to only one word, and 12 per cent needing more extensive revision.

Dr Laffling said: "Not all human translation is error-free. All translation for publication would be revised anyway."

Dr Laffling said there had been attempts at machine translation since computers were invented but these attempted to put language into "a straitjacket of rules", which limited accuracy. Verbalis tried to replicate the human approach to translation.

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