In 1980 Martin Kay wrote an internal report for the company Rank Xerox, “The Proper Place of Men and Machines in Language Translation”, which was unreleased to the public until its recent publication in the journal machine Translation.
This fact alone seems inexplicable considering the enormous prestige of this specialist in the field of artificial intelligence. The original text was finally distributed in 1997; owing to the observations of many uncertainties and predictions made by Martin Kay 18 years ago. Here are some of his assertions:
“The computer is a tool that can serve to magnify human productivity. Used properly, it does not have to dehumanize, with the mark of an Orwellian label, the products of creativity and work of human hands but rather, by appropriating what is mechanical and routine, it can create freedom to be fully engaged in work that is essentially human.
Translation, although a delicate and precise art, involves many tasks that are mechanical and routine. If these tasks were assigned to a machine, the translator’s productivity would not only be magnified, but their work would be more rewarding, more exciting, and more human.”
“It is not appropriate to instruct the computer to mechanize that which is not mechanical, or something whose mechanical substructure has not been revealed to science. In other words, a computer is used improperly when we try to make it do something that we ourselves do not understand. History cannot offer a better example of inappropriate computer use than that of machine translation.”
Time has proved him right precisely at a time of radical change in the approach of leading sector companies specializing in translation software, which are dedicated to the development of translation environments.
We can summarize the recommendations of Martin Kay with the maxim: “establish a proper division of labor that optimizes cooperation between the translator and the machine”.
Martin Kay was born in Edgeware (Middlesex, Great Britain) in 1935 and studied linguistics and computational linguistics at Trinity College, Cambridge.
His main interests are translation, both human and machine, and computational linguistic algorithms, especially in the fields of morphology and syntax. Kay began his career at the Language Research Unit of Cambridge, at Cambridge, England, under Margaret Masterman.
In 1961 David G. Hays hired him to work for the RAND Corporation; later he worked at the University of California, Irvine, and the Xerox Research Centre at Palo Alto. He is currently Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University and honorary professor of Computational Linguistics at the University of Saarland.