Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Those slightly disabled Swedes

This view from my study window has been Photoshopped to remove the washing line across the garden and an ugly street lamp. Click pic for greater grandeur.

In yet another BBC4 programme devoted to popularising science, a frenetic Swede set out last night to make me love statistics.

Many believe statistics is simply columns of figures. That’s data*. Statistics is data put to use – averaged out, for instance. Statistics tells us on average Swedes have 1.99 legs – reconciling the fact that some unfortunates have only one leg, or perhaps no legs, whereas none have three legs. “Thus we can say,” said the Scandinavian prophet, “that most Swedes have slightly less than two legs.”

But this was mere skittishness. Statistics is serious. It’s generally admitted that whatever suffering Florence Nightingale alleviated at Scutari wasn’t ultimately as important as the data she gathered and interpreted, proving that the so-called hospitals there were far more dangerous than the battle-field. Infection killed more than shells.

However it’s not history that’s astonishing, it’s the future. Google offers computerised translations of websites into seventy languages based on statistical analysis of language. Grammatical and syntactical rules aren’t good enough. Complex sentences in Swedish were uttered to Google’s research wonk who received them on his laptop which precisely and immediately translated them. The next step: mobile phones which allow users speaking in two different languages to hear the result in their native tongues.

Speaking as someone who has spent three decades wrestling with French I’m somewhat depressed.

* Yes, I know data is the plural of datum and I treated it accordingly while still working. But I now think it’s a lost cause.

11 comments:

Plutarch said...

I thought the Swedish prof could have done better. But the bobbing circles showing statistical variations over the years were intriguing. I think I fell asleep towards the end. Heidi may have done so too, because she cannot confirm whether I was a sleep or not.

Julia said...

Google Translate is far from perfect. You should see the whoppers it pieces together in Czech.

Frosty morning grandeur indeed! Is it already all melted and green(ish) again?

herhimnbryn said...

Glittering photo. I still have not got the hang of removing stuff by photoshop.

Google translate came up with some howlers recently when I tried it with Welsh.

Hattie said...

The first time a computer geek mentioned translation software, I scoffed. But it's getting better all the time.
Lovely spot you inhabit, by the way.

herhimnbryn said...

Your request is posted over at my place.

herhimnbryn said...

Have added to the post in reply to you and RR. Well, I had to didn't I?

The Crow said...

Lovely icing on your view, BB.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: I like that - mutual slumber precluding mutual accusation.

Julia: I got the idea from the programme that this Google translation service was a couple of steps along from that routinely offered. For one thing this is direct oral translation (hence the possibility of it being used in phones). For another the Swede presenter deliberately uttered difficult and ambiguous stuff which it handled pretty well. Also the Google wonk handling the laptop was a very senior wonk and would not, I'd've thought, been inclined to expose his company to ribaldry.

HHB: I thought you were against tarting up photos on principle. I sympathise with your P/S problems, however. For me being able to use P/S is proof I'm still not gaga. Once I can't I'm off to a care home.

Re translation: see the response to Julia, above.

Hattie: I did a post about poetry translation in mid-November which by WW standards generated a nation-wide storm of interest. Well, 15 responses, most of them probably from me. see:

http://bbworkswell.blogspot.com/2010/11/it-could-probably-do-better-than-me.html

Many people immediately react negatively to the idea without bothering to investigate. As if verse were something holier than access to an online dictionary and tapping out the beat with one's fingers. As you say, the programmes are improving.

The Crow: Too true, but it's a pretty picture with an aural accompaniment - the roar of the CH system. But then we've been into all that, haven't we?

Avus said...

Great image, BB.
I also like the "gate to nowhere". Does it lead to green fields and pastures new or is there an ominous feeling that this road and entrance is up for future development?

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: Well spotted. The grassy land immediately beyond the gate was the subject of a planning application to erect five five-bedroom houses with detached double garages. This was turned down by Hfds Council and went to appeal. The NIMBYs (including the BBs) gathered together and the appeal was also turned down. Hfds Council compulsory-purchased the land and the same NIMBYs (minus the BBs) are trying to ensure it isn't turned into a kickabout area for kids.

herhimnbryn said...

Well, you HAVE started something...

Rouchswalwe left this link in the comments box!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lCH5JgWCZY&feature=related

Like I told my Pa, You must watch it.