And The World Gets Smaller Still: Google’s Move Into Translation

In an interview with The Telegraph, Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president for search products and user experience, discusses issues from platform extension to privacy to personalized search, which remains a huge hot-button issue for online pundits and privacy advocates.  People can get very fiery over how their searches will be catalogued or skewed–if I lean left, should I only ever see search results that mirror my opinion?  Doesn’t an educated republic feed upon a multiplicity of viewpoints and the healthy debate that encourages?

BabelMaybe, but from a practical perspective, her thoughts on the issue of worldwide translation seem far more interesting.  “Imagine what it would be like if there was a tool built into the search engine which translated my search query into every language and then searched the entire world’s websites,” she says.  “And then invoked the translation software a second and third time–to not only then present the results in your native language, but then translated those sites in full when you clicked through.”

Imagine indeed.  Assessing, analyzing and then translating the billions of pages of the web and more staggeringly, the rush of data generated by the real time web–all those tweets and updates and hours and hours of uploaded video: the scope of this project boggles the mind.  The plan Mayer outlines is dizzyingly audacious.  At the same time, this has long been the promise of computers–to automate the mundane.  Using that automation to eliminate barriers to communication makes perfect sense.

The human consequences of the biblical Tower of Babel, Nimrod’s immense construction of sun-dried clay that threatened the gates of heaven in an act of unholy hubris (or something like that), were the destruction of uniform communication and the rise of separate, alienating tongues.  From that perspective, the notion that Google could eliminate those barriers, in a way that Dr. Zamenhof’s esperanto never quite could, represents a huge win for the peace movement.  Seriously.  The notion that we could understand each other’s writings, and by extension, our widely-varied philosophies and hopes dreams, provides a huge breakthrough in addressing our fundamental divide as a species.  One world sharing one language–admittedly, the language of the for-profit Google–could actually become a safer, more tightly knit place.  I’m hoping Ms. Mayer’s team makes it work.

Then again, I’m still not sure we’ve gotten Macs and PC’s talking to each other yet.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79