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James Lougheed

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Semantic Technology: It isn't just about words on a page anymore

Published by jloug099@uottawa.ca on 2012-01-27

It goes without saying that recent technology wonders have arisen as a main topic of conversation over the last decade. And for good reason. It is a marvel that our grasp of technology has accelerated at the rate that it has. As someone who has solely a basic understanding of how these things work, I am amazed at our progress in creating systems that not only come closer to imitating the functions of the human brain, but that also go beyond its abilities. In my opinion, this is both a scary thought and a comforting one. It is comforting to know that technology’s presence will allow us to advance more and more; but at what point will it go too far?


Having studied four years in translation, I have heard two questions asked much more often than I have wanted to answer: “What is a translator?” and “You need a university degree for that?” I agree, translation is certainly not rocket science, but it does require skill, practice and a degree of intellect. I often like to highlight the fact that a translation can require many hours of research and technical understanding to complete. That is to say, translation needs some degree of a cognitive process. When you take into account ever-advancing machine translators (such as the notorious Google Translate), however, we are seen as less and less useful in this world.


It is hard to refute that our work is not significantly simplified by the technology available to us. Concordancers, translation memories and environments and terminological databases give us a much wider range of tools that can stretch our words-per-minute higher and higher. But do or will translation technologies have the ability to translate entirely on their own?


Most translators would not hesitate in answering “no,” whether it be due to their experience in the field or their pride and hope to not be replaced by machines. But one must admit, we are getting closer. Semantic technology, for instance, is one way we can more easily rely on machine translation as a more accurate and efficient means of translation.


So what is semantic technology exactly? According to Luca Scagliarini of Expert System Semantic Intelligence, semantic technology analyzes words within their proper context and understands their meaning, even in different forms. Additionally, it “incorporates morphological, logical, grammatical and natural language analysis that translates into higher precision and recall.” In other words, it is technology that has the potential to fill the gaps that machine translation leaves behind.


It seems that a large part of its development is currently stemming from a business point of view. Corporations are starting to use this software to analyze internal and external data concerning products, methods, etc. Furthermore, this technology is being used more in search engines and other web applications to give better, more relevant results. One prime example can be seen in Facebook, which uses semantic technology to provide members with information that is more pertinent to them. To what extent, though, has it impacted the translation industry? And how will it continue to shape the way we translate?


As my first order of business, I hope to explore this issue in more depth, as it is a concept that not only will affect the way we work, but also that already affects other aspects of our lives. I will start my research with an analysis of a bilingual English-Spanish dictionary software by Semantix, a team of various language professionals. “Dixio the Smart Dictionary” uses semantic technology to determine the specific context in which a word aims to provide better entries accordingly.


As I dive deeper into the world of semantic technology, I am sure to find some interesting and useful software that may be putting this technology to use in a translation context. Stay tuned for updates!   


1 comment

Hello James,
Thank you so much for this introduction to semantic technology. Could you please provide some exemples of how this technlogy "affects some aspects of our lives"? I am not a Facebook user, so I would like to know what you mean by "semantic technology to provide members with information that is more pertinent to them". This is all new for me.
I look forward to reading your upcoming posts!