Sometimes you may feel like there's nothing worth reading on the Web, but at least there's plenty of material you can read and understand. Millions of people around the world, in contrast, speak languages that are still barely represented online, despite widespread Internet access and improving translation technology.
It sounds insane--that a hospital would give you a job you're not remotely qualified for, especially one that could have serious repercussions for someone's health. But the state of medical translation means that it is too frequently the case. As far back as 1996, research from Emory University School of Medicine showed that 76 percent of Spanish-speaking patients went without an interpreter in the emergency department. Data on the subject is scarce, but anecdotal evidence indicates little has changed. One doctor at Mt. Sinai in New York, a hospital that often sees patients who don't speak English, told me her colleagues frequently ask her to interpret Arabic, a language she doesn't even speak, because she has a Middle Eastern last name (she requested anonymity for professional reasons).
Tools and apps like Google Translate are getting better and better at translating one language into another. Alexander Waibel, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University's Language Technologies Institute (@LTIatCMU), tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson how translation technology works, where there's still room to improve and what could be in store in the decades to come. "Over the years I think there's been a big trend on translation to go increasingly from rule-based, knowledge-based methods to learning methods. Systems have now really achieved a phenomenally good accuracy, and so I think, within our lifetime I'm fairly sure that we'll reach -- if we haven't already done so -- human-level performance, and/or exceeding it. "The current technology that really has taken the community by storm is of course neural machine translation.