May 2024

History of Machine Translation

From ancient cryptanalysis techniques to early AI experiments, machine translation (MT) has been in the works for centuries. This issue of MultiLingual explores the foundations and evolution of this influential language technology.

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he cool kids have always shunned me. Perhaps I was misunderstood. I was often bullied. I was definitely weird. Being the teacher’s pet helped me survive school — and I skipped much of what coming of age is considered to be about: parties, drinking, boyfriends. Instead, I put on a backpack and rode my dinky road bike across Belgium at age 17, and flew to Australia one year later. Then, just to keep things exciting during college, my ignorant small-town self got a little too close with the criminal underground of Rotterdam. I roamed the Americas for most of my twenties. Over 10 years, I did biological fieldwork in Costa Rica, was robbed in Buenos Aires, had a knife pulled on me in Peru, bathed under an erupting volcano in Ecuador, and slept in a hammock on a barge flowing down the Amazon River. Once, I bought some illicit white powder in the ruins of General Noriega’s palace from guys with tears tattooed on their faces. A year later, my travel partner and I smuggled a Toyota Land Cruiser into Bolivia — we were searched, harassed, and finally able to bribe a border officer after weeks of delicate diplomacy.

I tell you all this to demonstrate the life that’s deep inside of me — behind the mirror-practiced smile I put on at events and pop onto LinkedIn. I believe that every experience offers a chance to develop and intensify your spirit if you’re willing to top the ascent. When you’ve reached emotional saturation, you can opt to kick back and coast or find another hill to climb and continue the evolution. Jobs are just another way to build your life skill set.

The last three years as CEO and publisher of MultiLingual magazine have offered a spectacular chronicle of events. But my other life — intense and thrilling — has been dormant under my skin, and its roots have begun to sprout and itch again. And so, this month is my last at MultiLingual Media.

In these past few years, I have felt accepted by you, the language industry community. You are the cool kids, and you’ve encouraged me to be authentic and proud of my work — and my personality. You’ve supported me when braving a few stings along the way. Some of you have become mentors, sisters, brothers, friends. But I’ve come to the point where I dearly miss the hardships of roaming around with a bag of smelly clothes and walking into a place I know nothing about, searching for a basic meal and a place to sleep. So that’s what I’m doing next: squatting on some remote patch of dirt, looking at rocks or birds, or writing my journals. I’ve been too still and too clean of late. Thank you for the support and memories, and may our paths cross again someday. 


Column: The Red List

Learning Multiple Languages: Good.
Learning Multiple Scripts: Better?

By Tim Brookes

A linguist studying a newly developed script in Africa noticed that people’s willingness to learn it depended on whether they grew up monoscriptal — using only one writing system — or polyscriptal. Tim Brookes ponders the reasons for this difference and asks for perspectives from readers.



The Essential Role of Specialized Translators at the AI and Life Sciences Nexus

By Luciana Ramos

Luciana Ramos argues that the symbiotic relationship between AI-driven solutions and human expertise is crucial in navigating the complexities of medical and scientific content and in improving the output of localization in these fields.

Overcoming the Language Paradox

How to Elevate Localization Within Your Business

By Pascale Tremblay

How can localization teams demonstrate the vital role of languages in a company’s success? Pascale Tremblay argues that language professionals can leverage the increasing importance of emerging technologies to their advantage.


Artificial Intelligence

Seventy Years of Machine Translation

The legacy of the Georgetown–IBM experiment

By Rodrigo Fuentes Corradi

This year marks 70 years since the first public demonstration of MT, which arguably sparked the language AI revolution that we see today. On January 7, 1954, a team from Georgetown University and IBM automatically translated 60 Russian sentences into English.

Throughlines of Genius

Al-Kindi and the origins of machine translation

By Cameron Rasmusson

By analyzing the frequency of letters in an Arabic text, ninth-century scholar Abu Yusuf al-Kindi established a framework for identifying patterns that laid the groundwork for both cryptography and MT.



Putting Globalization Strategy Into Practice

An interview with leaders at Emerson

By Karen Combe and Mimi Hills

After reading the Globalization Strategy Playbook, Inés Rubio San Martín and Satoko Yuda were inspired to utilize data analytics to refine their company’s globalization strategy. Now a year into the project, they share their progress and the successes and challenges they’ve faced along the way.



Regaining Common Ground in the Language Service Industry

By Ana Sofía Correia

Ana Sofia Correia discusses the challenges and expectations of both sides of the language services coin — agencies and freelancers — suggesting ways to ease tension and calling for increased understanding of the roles each party plays in the industry.

sponsored content

Human In The Loop

Supported by Translated

John Tinsley, VP of AI Solutions at Translated, discusses the company’s new adaptive machine translation (MT) system, which fuses advancements in AI with human expertise to deliver real-time quality improvements.

How Hyperautomation and AI Are Redefining the Future of Localization and Personalization

Supported by Phrase

Already a leading translation management software company, Phrase is taking automation to the next level. MultiLingual spoke with company leaders about why hyperautomation is a fundamental stepping stone towards engaging users in a uniquely personalized way.



Diverse Tongues, Uniting Nations

Multilingual identities and linguistic nationalism in South Asia

By Jamiul Islam Akash

In the diverse region of South Asia, the interaction between languages, multilingual identities, and linguistic nationalism creates a fascinating tapestry.


The Boldly Inclusive Leader

By Minette Norman

Reviewed Karen Tkaczyk

Inclusive leadership takes hard work. In The Boldly Inclusive Leader, there are no simple formulas. Rather, the author invites readers to embrace discomfort, accept challenges, and practice inclusivity every day.