David Arbesu on how computers are making great strides as language translators, but how they will never really be able to replace the wetware of bilingual humans:
“But translating is an altogether different task than finding the nearest Starbucks, because machines aim for perfection and rationality, while languages—and humans—are always imperfect and irrational.
This is the paradox of computers and languages.
If machines become too sophisticated and logical, they’ll never be able to correctly interpret human speech. If they don’t, they’ll never be able to fully interpret all the elements that come into play when two humans communicate.
Therefore, we should be very wary of a device that is incapable of interpreting the world around us. If people from different cultures can offend each other without realizing it, how can we expect a machine to do better?”
I use Google Translate every day, but it’s so clearly limited it what it can currently do with regards to grammar and syntax (pretty OK regarding vocabulary though).
That said, it’s disheartening to hear that some academics and educators are suggesting that studying a second language is a waste of time. Broadly speaking, the cultural value alone is generally worth the time invested.
Connotation will always trump denotation. At the end of the day, we are limited beings who can only help but squawk at one another. There is no “perfect language” that gets us out of this trap.