Universal Translator - Possible or not?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by darksidZz, Mar 5, 2007.


I say

Poll closed Mar 20, 2007.
  1. It's impossible!

  2. It's possible!

  1. darksidZz Valued Senior Member

    Because this is a new area on SciForums I was hoping you might have an insight into whether a universal translator could ever be constructed realistically. From what I gather there would be 2 methods of completing one:

    1. Put all known languages into a computer that's portable, then design it to translate words between whatever it knows.

    2. Develop some unusual and fantastic method unknown to man.

    Yes, my idea is that perhaps all language originates within the same location in the human brain, thus we should be able to wire in some sort of device that could translate languages, but do it directly with no real interaction from us. Such a device could in theory automatically change itself based on your native language, so that any unknown would instantly be spoken in your tongue.

    Now this would certainly require a more direct knowledge of human anatomy, as well as brain chemistry + transfer. I do think however it would be possible in say 100 years.

    Now the final comment is this, I don't see any way of making this work in reverse, meaning you couldn't construct one that would allow you to speak in another language, such a thing would require a more direct connection to the human brain I feel will never be possible.

    What do you think?
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  3. draqon Banned Banned

    mathematics...by using relations
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  5. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member

    You mean universal translators like they have in Star Trek?

    I would like to say it's entirely possible to invent them. Granted, I can't imagine how one might make one or how it would work, but then it's pretty hard to imagine a computer-like device if it hasn't been invented yet.

    Let us not make the same mistake in judgment that a man who worked for the US patent office once made in the late 1800s: "Everything that can be invented has already been invented".
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  7. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    In most all languages of the world, much less the universe, words can often have completely different meanings depending on the context of the sentences. So a "translator" would FIRST have to translate the sentence for a grasp on the context, THEN go back and revise the translations of certain words so as to fit the context of the sentence.

    Not saying that it can't be done, but.... Well, it ain't so easy as just having a vast dictionary of all the words in all of the world's languages.

    Baron Max
  8. Athelwulf Rest in peace Kurt... Registered Senior Member

    True. A universal translator would need a ridiculously large database, and it still might be as crappy as Babel Fish. But who knows what amazing stuff we could accomplish in the future. We're able to hold more and more digital information in less and less physical space day by day, for example.
  9. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    Just look at how bad some of the internet translators out there are. Even commercial ones that specialise in only 2 languages. They can only get the simplest of sentences completely right and this is probably because these simple sentences are stored and directly retrieved.
  10. EndLightEnd This too shall pass. Registered Senior Member

    Present Day? No
    Future? Possible
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    This is certainly feasible with foreseeable technology.
    If you're talking about translating a language it's never encountered before, that's a logic problem rather than a science problem so Star Fleet technology isn't going to solve it. Even the Star Trek gizmo had to learn an alien language before it could start translating. They glamorized that by having it just listen to conversations; that's ridiculous because without any visual or other context the words are meaningless no matter how many times you hear them.
    You're right more or less. The computer would probably have to map each individual brain, but once it did that it would be able to translate your thoughts into a standard language that everybody's devices have in common. That's kind of what they did on "Farscape," only instead of cybernetics they used bioengineeering: "translator microbes." When Chrichton first came aboard Moira they had to hold him down long enough to shoot him with the microbes, and then soon he was communicating.
    You've still got the intractable logic problem of the unknown language. There is no way any technology will be able to figure out what alien words mean with no referents. It will have to go through what we do in the immersion technique: Watch closely and figure out what they're talking about.
    Even human translators lag about half a sentence behind the speech. Not only do you have to take several words at a time to pick up idioms, but you have languages like German where the infinitive is the last word in the sentence and you can't start the translation into English until you find it.
  12. Avatar smoking revolver Valued Senior Member

    Answer to the pool question: I don't know.
  13. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    For voice translation, they'd have to get something to recognize even one well known language from different speakers first.

    As the Onion (approximately) put it: "I could have dumb fish by hand inattentive time, you god ram plucking pizza ship"

    For written, I'd start by picking an artificial language, such as Esperanto, and translating everything in and out of that. That sounds possible, in a vague and probably useless way.

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