On a basic level, MT performs simple substitution of words in one natural language for words in another, but that alone usually cannot produce a good translation of a text, because recognition of whole phrases and their closest counterparts in the target language is needed. Solving this problem with corpus and statistical techniques is a rapidly growing field that is leading to better translations, handling differences in linguistic typology, translation of idioms, and the isolation of anomalies.
Current machine translation software often allows for customisation by domain or profession (such as weather reports), improving output by limiting the scope of allowable substitutions. This technique is particularly effective in domains where formal or formulaic language is used. It follows that machine translation of government and legal documents more readily produces usable output than conversation or less standardised text.
Improved output quality can also be achieved by human intervention: for example, some systems are able to translate more accurately if the user has unambiguously identified which words in the text are names. With the assistance of these techniques, MT has proven useful as a tool to assist human translators and, in a very limited number of cases, can even produce output that can be used as is (e.g., weather reports).
The progress and potential of machine translation has been debated much through its history. Since the 1950s, a number of scholars have questioned the possibility of achieving fully automatic machine translation of high quality. Some critics claim that there are in-principle obstacles to automatizing the translation process.
The idea of machine translation may be traced back to the 17th century. In 1629, René Descartes proposed a universal language, with equivalent ideas in different tongues sharing one symbol. In the 1950s, The Georgetown experiment (1954) involved fully automatic translation of over sixty Russian sentences into English. The experiment was a great success and ushered in an era of substantial funding for machine-translation research. The authors claimed that within three to five years, machine translation would be a solved problem.
Real progress was much slower, however, and after the ALPAC report (1966), which found that the ten-year-long research had failed to fulfill expectations, funding was greatly reduced. Beginning in the late 1980s, as computational power increased and became less expensive, more interest was shown in statistical models for machine translation.
The idea of using digital computers for translation of natural languages was proposed as early as 1946 by A. D. Booth and possibly others. Warren Weaver wrote an important memorandum "Translation" in 1949. The Georgetown experiment was by no means the first such application, and a demonstration was made in 1954 on the APEXC machine at Birkbeck College (University of London) of a rudimentary translation of English into French. Several papers on the topic were published at the time, and even articles in popular journals (see for example Wireless World, Sept. 1955, Cleave and Zacharov). A similar application, also pioneered at Birkbeck College at the time, was reading and composing Braille texts by computer.
Behind this ostensibly simple procedure lies a complex cognitive operation. To decode the meaning of the source text in its entirety, the translator must interpret and analyse all the features of the text, a process that requires in-depth knowledge of the grammar, semantics, syntax, idioms, etc., of the source language, as well as the culture of its speakers. The translator needs the same in-depth knowledge to re-encode the meaning in the target language.
Therein lies the challenge in machine translation: how to program a computer that will "understand" a text as a person does, and that will "create" a new text in the target language that "sounds" as if it has been written by a person.
This problem may be approached in a number of ways.
Bernard Vauquois' pyramid showing comparative depths of intermediary representation, interlingual machine translation at the peak, followed by transfer-based, then direct translation.
Machine translation can use a method based on linguistic rules, which means that words will be translated in a linguistic way — the most suitable (orally speaking) words of the target language will replace the ones in the source language.
Given enough data, machine translation programs often work well enough for a native speaker of one language to get the approximate meaning of what is written by the other native speaker. The difficulty is getting enough data of the right kind to support the particular method. For example, the large multilingual corpus of data needed for statistical methods to work is not necessary for the grammar-based methods. But then, the grammar methods need a skilled linguist to carefully design the grammar that they use.
To translate between closely related languages, a technique referred to as shallow-transfer machine translation may be used.
The rule-based machine translation paradigm includes transfer-based machine translation, interlingual machine translation and dictionary-based machine translation paradigms.
Interlingual machine translation is one instance of rule-based machine-translation approaches. In this approach, the source language, i.e. the text to be translated, is transformed into an interlingual, i.e. source-/target-language-independent representation. The target language is then generated out of the interlingua.
Statistical machine translation tries to generate translations using statistical methods based on bilingual text corpora, such as the Canadian Hansard corpus, the English-French record of the Canadian parliament and EUROPARL, the record of the European Parliament. Where such corpora are available, impressive results can be achieved translating texts of a similar kind, but such corpora are still very rare. The first statistical machine translation software was CANDIDE from IBM. Google used SYSTRAN for several years, but switched to a statistical translation method in October 2007. Recently, they improved their translation capabilities by inputting approximately 200 billion words from United Nations materials to train their system. Accuracy of the translation has improved.
Hybrid machine translation (HMT) leverages the strengths of statistical and rule-based translation methodologies. Several MT companies (Asia Online, LinguaSys, Systran, PangeaMT, UPV) are claiming to have a hybrid approach using both rules and statistics. The approaches differ in a number of ways:
Rules post-processed by statistics: Translations are performed using a rules based engine. Statistics are then used in an attempt to adjust/correct the output from the rules engine.
Statistics guided by rules: Rules are used to pre-process data in an attempt to better guide the statistical engine. Rules are also used to post-process the statistical output to perform functions such as normalization. This approach has a lot more power, flexibility and control when translating.
Word-sense disambiguation concerns finding a suitable translation when a word can have more than one meaning. The problem was first raised in the 1950s by Yehoshua Bar-Hillel. He pointed out that without a "universal encyclopedia", a machine would never be able to distinguish between the two meanings of a word. Today there are numerous approaches designed to overcome this problem. They can be approximately divided into "shallow" approaches and "deep" approaches.
Shallow approaches assume no knowledge of the text. They simply apply statistical methods to the words surrounding the ambiguous word. Deep approaches presume a comprehensive knowledge of the word. So far, shallow approaches have been more successful.
Why does a translator need a whole workday to translate five pages, and not an hour or two? ..... About 90% of an average text corresponds to these simple conditions. But unfortunately, there's the other 10%. It's that part that requires six [more] hours of work. There are ambiguities one has to resolve. For instance, the author of the source text, an Australian physician, cited the example of an epidemic which was declared during World War II in a "Japanese prisoner of war camp". Was he talking about an American camp with Japanese prisoners or a Japanese camp with American prisoners? The English has two senses. It's necessary therefore to do research, maybe to the extent of a phone call to Australia.
The ideal deep approach would require the translation software to do all the research necessary for this kind of disambiguation on its own; but this would require a higher degree of AI than has yet been attained. A shallow approach which simply guessed at the sense of the ambiguous English phrase that Piron mentions (based, perhaps, on which kind of prisoner-of-war camp is more often mentioned in a given corpus) would have a reasonable chance of guessing wrong fairly often. A shallow approach that involves "ask the user about each ambiguity" would, by Piron's estimate, only automate about 25% of a professional translator's job, leaving the harder 75% still to be done by a human.
Asia Online provides a custom machine translation engine building capability that they claim gives near-human quality compared to the "gist" based quality of free online engines. Asia Online also provides tools to edit and create custom machine translation engines with their Language Studio suite of products.
Cunei  An open-source platform for data-driven machine translation released under the MIT license. Platform-independent Java code with both a command-line and graphical interface.
DocTranslator A web service which uses the Google Translate API to automatically translate and return Office document files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF) while preserving the original document layouts.
English to Punjabi Translation Web based English to Punjabi Machine Translation System.
Google Translator Toolkit A web service designed to allow translators to edit the translations that Google Translate automatically generates. With the Google Translator Toolkit, translators can organize their work and use shared translations, glossaries and translation memories.
Hindi to Punjabi Machine Translation System, provides machine translation using a direct approach. It translates Hindi into Punjabi. It also features writing e-mail in the Hindi language and sending the same in Punjabi to the recipient.
Punjabi to Hindi Machine Translation System, provides machine translation using a direct approach. It translates Punjabi to Hindi. It also features converting any website in Punjabi to Hindi on the fly. The Punjabi Website must be in Unicode.
IdiomaX, which powers online translation services at idiomax.com
NeuroTran is a software translator that translates books, web pages, documents, e-mails, faxes, memos, manuals, reports, spreadsheets, correspondence, letters and more to and from many languages. For Windows and Macintosh.
Promt, which powers online translation services at Voila.fr and Orange.fr
Ta with you  is specialized in customized machine translation solutions in any language. Their web-based user interface makes it easy for any Language Service Provider to generate any combination of domain and language pair to achieve the best quality. Their solution works with almost human quality for a wide variety of language pairs.
Tilde Translator  Free online translator for Latvian language. Provides also free apps for Android and iOS.
Toggletext uses a transfer-based system (known as Kataku) to translate between English and Indonesian.
Translate and Back  A free online round-trip machine translation tool, which enables checking correctness by back translation. Contains virtual keyboards and human voice. Suitable for right to left languages, as well.
While no system provides the holy grail of fully automatic high-quality machine translation of unrestricted text, many fully automated systems produce reasonable output. The quality of machine translation is substantially improved if the domain is restricted and controlled.
Despite their inherent limitations, MT programs are used around the world. Probably the largest institutional user is the European Commission. The MOLTO project, for example, coordinated by the University of Gothenburg, received more than 2.375 million euros project support from the EU to create a reliable translation tool that covers a majority of the EU languages.
Google has claimed that promising results were obtained using a proprietary statistical machine translation engine. The statistical translation engine used in the Google language tools for Arabic <-> English and Chinese <-> English had an overall score of 0.4281 over the runner-up IBM's BLEU-4 score of 0.3954 (Summer 2006) in tests conducted by the National Institute for Standards and Technology.
With the recent focus on terrorism, the military sources in the United States have been investing significant amounts of money in natural language engineering. In-Q-Tel (a venture capital fund, largely funded by the US Intelligence Community, to stimulate new technologies through private sector entrepreneurs) brought up companies like Language Weaver. Currently the military community is interested in translation and processing of languages like Arabic, Pashto, and Dari. The Information Processing Technology Office in DARPA hosts programs like TIDES and Babylon Translator. US Air Force has awarded a $1 million contract to develop a language translation technology.
The notable rise of social networking on the web in recent years has created yet another niche for the application of machine translation software – in utilities such as Facebook, or instant messaging clients such as Skype, GoogleTalk, MSN Messenger, etc. – allowing users speaking different languages to communicate with each other. Machine translation applications have also been released for most mobile devices, including mobile telephones, pocket PCs, PDAs, etc. Due to their portability, such instruments have come to be designated as mobile translation tools enabling mobile business networking between partners speaking different languages, or facilitating both foreign language learning and unaccompanied traveling to foreign countries without the need of the intermediation of a human translator.
Machine translation systems and output can be evaluated along numerous dimensions. The intended use of the translation, characteristics of the MT software, the nature of the translation process, etc., all affect how one evaluates MT systems and their output. The FEMTI taxonomy of dimensions, with associated evaluation metrics, appears at http://www.issco.unige.ch:8080/cocoon/femti/st-home.html .
There are various means for evaluating the output quality of machine translation systems. The oldest is the use of human judges to assess a translation's quality. Even though human evaluation is time-consuming, it is still the most reliable way to compare different systems such as rule-based and statistical systems. Automated means of evaluation include BLEU, NIST and METEOR.
Relying exclusively on unedited machine translation ignores the fact that communication in human language is context-embedded and that it takes a person to comprehend the context of the original text with a reasonable degree of probability. It is certainly true that even purely human-generated translations are prone to error. Therefore, to ensure that a machine-generated translation will be useful to a human being and that publishable-quality translation is achieved, such translations must be reviewed and edited by a human. The late Claude Piron wrote that machine translation, at its best, automates the easier part of a translator's job; the harder and more time-consuming part usually involves doing extensive research to resolve ambiguities in the source text, which the grammatical and lexical exigencies of the target language require to be resolved. Such research is a necessary prelude to the pre-editing necessary in order to provide input for machine-translation software such that the output will not be meaningless.
In certain applications, however, e.g., product descriptions written in a controlled language, a dictionary-based machine-translation system has produced satisfactory translations that require no human intervention save for quality inspection.
^ First and most notably Bar-Hillel, Yeheshua: "A demonstration of the nonfeasibility of fully automatic high quality machine translation," in Language and Information: Selected essays on their theory and application (Jerusalem Academic Press, 1964), pp. 174–179.
^ Nagao, M. 1981. A Framework of a Mechanical Translation between Japanese and English by Analogy Principle, in Artificial and Human Intelligence, A. Elithorn and R. Banerji (eds.) North- Holland, pp. 173-180, 1984.
^ J.M. Cohen observes (p.14): "Scientific translation is the aim of an age that would reduce all activities to techniques. It is impossible however to imagine a literary-translation machine less complex than the human brain itself, with all its knowledge, reading, and discrimination."
^ Muegge (2006), "Fully Automatic High Quality Machine Translation of Restricted Text: A Case Study," in Translating and the computer 28. Proceedings of the twenty-eighth international conference on translating and the computer, 16–17 November 2006, London, London: Aslib. ISBN 978-0-85142-483-5.
machine translation — n. (Computers) The translation of human language from one language to another by a computer; a branch of artificial intelligence. Syn: computer translation, automatic translation. [PJC] … The Collaborative International Dictionary of English
machine translation — aparatinis vertimas statusas T sritis automatika atitikmenys: angl. automatic translation; machine translation; MT vok. maschinelle Sprachübersetzung, f; Maschinenübersetzung, f rus. автоматический машинный перевод, m; автоматический перевод, m;… … Automatikos terminų žodynas
machine translation — mašininis vertimas statusas T sritis informatika apibrėžtis Automatinis vertimas iš vienos kalbos į kitą naudojant vertimo programą – ↑vertyklę. Natūraliosios kalbos turi labai turtingas raiškos formas. Todėl sunku viską iš anksto numatyti, juo… … Enciklopedinis kompiuterijos žodynas
machine translation — noun the use of computers to translate from one language to another • Syn: ↑MT • Hypernyms: ↑artificial intelligence, ↑AI, ↑computational linguistics * * * maˌchine transˈlation f23 [machine translation] … Useful english dictionary
machine translation — noun a) The act of translating something by means of a machine, especially a computer. b) The act of translating a computer language into a form more directly usable by the computer. See Also: automatic translation, computer assisted translation … Wiktionary
machine translation — ma,chine trans lation noun uncount the translation of a piece of writing from one language to another by a computer … Usage of the words and phrases in modern English
machine translation — noun translation carried out by a computer … English new terms dictionary
machine translation — noun (U) translation done by a computer … Longman dictionary of contemporary English
machine translation — UK / US noun [uncountable] computing the translation of a piece of writing from one language to another by a computer … English dictionary