Thursday, April 27, 2000

Letter in the Science Times

Technology - Circuits
April 27, 2000


Letters to the Editor

Translate This To the Editor: The article on computer-aided translation ("Untangling the Web's Languages," April 20) missed a critical point: the quality of the resulting translation is highly dependent on the quality of the original source.
Corporations that use machine translation invest heavily in terminology standardization and controlled language authoring of the source content. This is designed to simplify the content intended for translation, based on a principle of "one word, one meaning."
Without this, the resulting translations are unusable (for example, the English word "job" in a manufacturing industry context can mean "batch process," but within a human resources context can mean "occupation" and thus be translated differently).
We're all familiar with the terrible standards of English used in most of the Internet authoring that exists today. Small wonder that translations are not perfect.
San Francisco
To the Editor:
"Untangling the Web's Languages" showed examples of AltaVista's translations of the United States Constitution, but didn't point out how atrocious the renderings were.
In the German version, for example, AltaVista was unable to translate the words "tranquility," "blessings," "posterity," "ordain" and even "we," and simply reproduced them in English.
Surely even a cheap English-German pocket dictionary contains those words.
It translated "people" as "Leute" (which doesn't mean "people" in the political sense, but something more like "folks") and "Constitution" as "Beschaffenheit" (which means "condition," or "nature," like someone's physical constitution; the word for a basic legal document is "Verfassung").
To the Editor:
Translation software almost resembles the fantasy of putting the algebra book under the pillow the night before the big test.
Wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to learn my conjugations!
More realistically, translation software will likely remain an efficiency tool for someone already skilled in a foreign language, not an alternative to acquiring language skills.
Winnetka, Ill.

G.P.S. and Insurance
To the Editor:
I was gobsmacked by the story of Progressive Auto Insurance's attempt to incorporate global positioning system monitoring as a way of paying for insurance ("Paying for Car Insurance by the Mile," April 20). What struck me as more amazing was the relatively casual way the test subjects reacted to the invasion of privacy.
Anyone who thinks for one moment that an insurance company would go to such great lengths to save customers money must be deluding themselves. When has insurance ever gone down? It's like the banking industry's sly move to introduce A.T.M.'s as a convenience when their real purpose was to eliminate tellers and increase profit.
It will be the insurance companies that will soon govern this country's roads. They won't need the state to issue a ticket for speeding before they raise your insurance rates -- it will happen on the fly!
It never ceases to amaze me to what ends people will sell out their freedoms for a piddling discount.
New York
To the Editor:
While Progressive's new car insurance system may raise questions of privacy, these issues must be balanced against the insurance industry's current discriminatory practices. Car insurance is one of the only services in this country that has its price determined primarily by the age and sex of the buyer.
Progressive's new "by-the-mile" policy is step in the right direction for freeing car insurance from its current biases.
New York

Art and Image
To the Editor:
It is with great interest that I read "A Portrait of the Artist as Internet Marketer" (April 20). As a member of a visual art-oriented community, and an enthusiast user of the Web, I can only wish that sites with a high emphasis on image quality had been mentioned. As two examples. and, demonstrate, quality and content cohabit very happily.
New York
What Goes Around To the Editor:
Instant CD's from kiosks may be new ("Appearing Soon at a Store Near You: An A.T.M. for the Ears," April 20), but buying recordings on demand is not.
My 81-year-old mother, Henrietta, saw the Broadway musical "Call Me Mister" in the 1940's. She loved one particular tune and after the show happened to see a store in Times Square that made copies of records (on demand, as we say today, but I'm sure my mother asked politely). From my childhood I remember it as her only 78 record that didn't have a label.
Plus ├ža change. . . .

New York

Just Do It, Now
To the Editor:
I have a suggestion for those people who are busy composing e-mails to be sent to loved ones when they die ("Tales From the Crypt: Storing E-Mail to Be Sent After Your Death," April 13). Why don't you send those e-mails now -- or, even better, say it face to face?
It's very sad that we can't let our family and friends know that we love them and tell them what they mean to us now, while we're still here to enjoy each other and to build strong relationships.
New York

Circuits welcomes letters from readers. Letters must include the writer's name, address and telephone number. Letters can be sent by e-mail to or by postal mail to Letters, Circuits, The New York Times, 229 West 43d Street, New York NY 10036-3959. Letters selected may be abridged.

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