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Perfect MT:
 Logical Certainty or Recurrent Self-Delusion?

[The following paper was presented at the 1995 ATA Conference in Nashville and published in the Proceedings. It was accompanied by a number of illustrations, most of which cannot be provided in this electronic version, and even the published version contained only four of them. Or rather, although they could be provided, the work of scanning and reediting fine line-drawings would take too long and the files involved would make this website too large.

Readers should perhaps try to conjure up in their minds the atmosphere of the busy conference hotel and of a room containing the eighty or so people who attended this presentation. It may also help to know that far from being an address to a group of convinced translators, that room also contained some of the major executives of MT companies. This paper was followed by a completely pro-MT presentation, itself followed by general discussion.

Wherever necessary in the text, sections in brackets attempt to describe the missing illustrations. This paper has been uploaded with permission from Information Today, publishers of the ATA Proceedings. Anyone who has a desperate urge to see the published drawings can order the Proceedings from them. Their address is Information Today, Inc., Medford, New Jersey, 08055.]

Perfect MT: Logical Certainty Or Recurrent Self-Delusion?

(Ten Fragments and Three Contentions Connected by a Single Theme)

By Alex Gross Cross-Cultural Research Projects, ATA

Keywords: Machine Translation, Human Translation, History of Computers, Knowledge Interfaces, Data Bases, Limits of Science

ABSTRACT: The speaker will discuss Machine Translation as one of a number of languageand knowledge organizing devices that have developed over time and in various cultures. His chief interest lies in the assertions of MT's pioneers—though still echoed by some specialists today—that perfect or near-perfect translation by computers can in fact be accomplished. Using overhead slides, he will move from early Chinese to classical Arabic to medieval Christian beliefs about the nature of knowledge and language along with various theories attempting to explain or control them. He will not neglect Swift's satirical Academy of Lagado as he moves closer to the computer age and attempts to show at least a few parallels between modern science and past systems of knowledge. Problems with various types of knowledge interfaces will be considered, including those for computers, and the speaker will conclude with some specific remarks about where MT is currently headed and how translators can best accommodate themselves to the kinds of work it does best.

I want to begin this paper with the all-important twopart proviso that has to accompany any treatment of MT at a translators' Conference. 1) No one opposes MT where it works, and 2) MT works quite well for those tasks where it is suitable. Similarly, there are two extremes which we must avoid at all costs:

a) MT is useless—it will never truly work; and

b) MT is inevitable, it will soon take over all of translation, and we will all be out of jobs.

Now that I've made this abundantly clear, I'd like to discuss the question that I find most truly interesting. How is it possible that for nearly fifty years many perfectly intelligent and even ingenious engineers, linguists, and researchers could have ever supposed that something resembling perfect MT could ever come into being? And how is it possible, I might add, that quite a few of these authorities have still not totally climbed down from this position and continue to believe that it will sooner or later become possible to put most of the people in this room out of work? And, finally, how does it come about that a number of academic fields and even professional organizations are still aimed at precisely this goal? How has it become possible for any of this to take place and for any of these people to go on believing this?

To answer this multi-part question I want to take you on a private tour through a number of artifacts, images, or ideas from the past and/or from other cultures. I also want to describe a few encounters and episodes I've witnessed in our own age and culture. I'm calling all of these collectively "fragments," and I hope that by the end of this tour you will begin to share my view of the connections between them and see how they relate to MT today. What most of these fragments have in common is that they have something to do with a means of organizing either language or human knowledge or reality itself—or all three together. In the midst of our tour I will also introduce three outrageous contentions, which I mean to defend quite seriously.

The first such artifact [overhead slide 1] is a Chinese geomantic compass, called a fengshui luopan or, literally, a wind and water compass. As you can see, it's a set of concentric circles and purports to demonstrate how individual human beings fit into the larger pattern of the universe. There is no way I can really explain fengshui without all of you assuming that it must be some form of astrology, even though I know for a certainty that it covers far more than what is properly considered as astrology. This wheel or compass provides a metaphysical, medical, and even a methodological guide to the classical Chinese universe.

But what does this have to do with computers, you may ask. If we look at the next slide [slide 2], the answer should become clear. Once again we see a wheel or a set of wheels, but instead of Chinese characters we find English words, actually a translation from the Latin. This set of wheels, unlike the Chinese one, is credited by those in the field with providing the first crucial step towards the computer. The reason for this is that its various wheels move independently of one another, while the fengshui luopan was a single rigid piece. This is what patent lawyers call "the inventive step" and possibly defines that point where the East ends and the West begins, even though it may yet turn out that its inventor based it on an Arab original.

This inventor, whose life bridged the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, was a truly great linguist and even the founder of language schools. He managed to be both a scholar and a popularizer, both a scientist in terms of his own age and a fanatical Christian apologist. And because he wrote in both Catalan and Arabic, for four centuries his works were known in both Christian and Muslim lands. His name in his native language is El Beat Ramon Llull, or the Blessed Raymond Llull, "Blessed" being the title one step below "Saint" in the Catholic hierarchy. He was also deeply interested in medical studies.

What do these Llullian wheels do? They supposedly illustrate the attributes of God according to various human and divine categories. To some extent they overlap on the territory of the Chinese Fengshui compass. But because the wheels move independently, what we are also looking at here is an early example of a relational data base, or at least of the hardware or software shell for such a data base.

This invention, as vapid and metaphysical as it may seem, pointed the way to the scientific age, which I think we've all heard about, and so I'll skip to the year 1726, when Jonathan Swift was busy sending up this entire movement in Gulliver's Travels. Here we see [slide 3] the "Frame or Engine for Improving Speculative Knowledge" from the Academy of Lagado. Swift describes it as follows:

[This illustration shows a remarkably nonsensical-looking gridded square with 20 lines criss-crossing horizontally and vertically to form 400 little squares. Within each square is a silly-looking "foreign" character, perhaps a cross between Arabic and Siamese. Around all four sides are representations of little "handles" at each level of the grid.]

The first Professor I saw was in a very large Room, with Forty Pupils about him. After Salutation, observing me to look earnestly upon a Frame, which took up the greatest Part of both the Length and Breadth of the Room; he said, perhaps I might wonder to see him employed in a Project for improving speculative Knowledge by practical and mechanical Operations. But the World would soon be sensible of its Usefulness; and he flattered himself, that a more noble exalted Thought never sprang in any other Man's Head. Everyone knew how laborious the usual Method is of attaining to Arts and Sciences; whereas by his Contrivance, the most ignorant Person at a reasonable Charge, and with a little bodily Labour, may write Books in Philosophy, Poetry, Politicks, Law, Mathematicks and Theology, without the least Assistance from Genius or Study.

He then led me to the Frame, about the Sides whereof all his Pupils stood in Ranks. It was Twenty Foot Square, placed in the Middle of the Room. The Superficies was composed of several Bits of Wood, about the Bigness of a Dye [singular of "dice"], but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender Wires. These Bits of Wood were covered on every Square with Papers pasted on them; and on these Papers were written all the Words of their Language in their several Moods, Tenses. and Declensions, but without any Order. The Professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his Engine at work. The Pupils at his Command took each of them hold of an Iron Handle, whereof there were Forty fixed round the Edges of the Frame; and giving them a sudden Turn, the whole Disposition of the Words was entirely changed. He then commanded Six and Thirty of the Lads to read the several Lines softly as they appeared upon the Frame; and where they found three or four Words together that might make Part of a Sentence, they dictated to the four remaining Boys, who were Scribes. This Work was repeated three or four Times, and at every Turn the Engine was so contrived, that the Words shifted into new Places, as the square Bits of Wood moved upside down.

Six Hours a-Day the young Students were employed in this Labour; and the Professor shewed me several Volumes in large Folio already collected, of broken Sentences, which he intended to piece together; and out of those rich Materials to give the World a compleat Body of all Arts and Sciences; which however might be still improved and much expedited, if the Publick would raise a Fund for making and employing five Hundred such Frames in Lagado, and oblige the Managers to contribute in common their several Collections.

He assured me, that this Invention had employed all his Thoughts from his Youth; that he had emptyed the whole Vocabulary into his Frame, and made the strictest Computation of the general Proportion there is in Books between the Numbers of Particles, Nouns, and Verbs, and other Parts of Speech." (1)

In his description of the Academy of Lagado, Swift was of course exercising his satirist's right to exaggerate. Many of the experiments he singles out are totally ridiculous, though perhaps no more so than some experiments undertaken today. He was in fact satirizing all of "Science," and this may be the reason why this episode has been cut from some abridged versions of Gulliver's Travels.

How mistaken Swift could be is proven by my next exhibit, a perfectly successful example of language-, knowledge-, and reality-management, dating from the year 1852. Once again there is a medical aspect, because its inventor was not only a doctor but served as Secretary and Vice-President of London's Medico-Chirurgical Society and later as a member and Secretary of the Royal Society. He also invented a slide rule, wrote a regular column on chess problems, and even created the first inexpensive chessboard. Perhaps most intriguingly—he worked long and hard during the 1840s on the invention of a calculating machine. But work on his most important contribution to humanity began only when he was in his seventy-first year. This invention was so successful that we still use it in one version or another today, 147 years after its creation. I used it in writing this paper.

It is of course [slide 4, showing the frontispiece of an early edition and a portrait of the author] the "Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases" by Dr. Peter Mark Roget. In the preface Roget advanced both philosophical and practical claims for his work. Here once again we encounter the notion that an invention capable of organizing language can also affect human knowledge, perhaps everyday reality itself. Roget argued that anyone who used his Thesaurus would become more persuasive in argument and hence better able to influence events.

There's one important feature about his invention that I would ask you to note, as it has some relevance to MT. With all his interest in chess, slide-rules, and automatic calculators, Roget never suggested that his Thesaurus itself was automatic or that it could be consulted mechanically by a non-human user. The whole point of the Thesaurus is that would-be users must examine the various lists of words and make their own choices, based on a specific task and context. But even today not everyone gets the "point" of a thesaurus: there are those—mostly non-writers or others lacking verbal sophistication—who imagine it is a kind of failed dictionary. They want only the word that they imagine they want and may actually blame the Thesaurus for making them choose. I can't help wondering if some of their descendants have not now wandered into MT.

With Peter Mark Roget we are clearly only a few steps from his contemporary Charles Babbage, who was already at work—with aid from Lord Byron's daughter Duchess Ada—building the "Analytical Engine," which had it been completed would have qualified as a true prototype of the computer.

At this point, I think my next fragment can be none other than Alan Turing's famous statement in his paper Intelligent Machinery (2). Here he foresaw the use of "television cameras, microphones, loudspeakers, wheels and handling servo-mechanisms" as well as some sort of "electric brain." It would be capable of [slide 5, which shows the above quotation, plus the indented section below]:

"(i) Various games...
(ii) The learning of languages
(iii) Translation of languages [author's emphasis]
(iv) Cryptography
(v) Mathematics"

Now we are getting directly into computers, and my next example is going to be rather contentious or will appear as such to some people. It is in fact a set of three connected arguments I made two years ago at a New York Circle panel on MT. It goes as follows:

1) There will never, ever be a perfect computer interface that works satisfactorily for all purposes and for all people.

2) There will never, ever be a perfect hypertext system that permits ideal information retrieval for all people.

3) There will never, ever be a truly advanced system of machine translation that allows all texts to be adequately—not perfectly but no more than adequately—translated for all purposes.

These are the three contentions I mentioned in my subtitle. They are closely related, and most of my remaining fragments will be devoted to proving they are true. I will also have a few words for anyone who may be shocked by my use not only of the adverb never but of its colloquial cousin "never, ever," but I will save these for the Conference session itself.

[ASIDE, NOT IN PUBLISHED PAPER: At the "session itself," the author took pains to inspire the audience, by a show of hands, to express disagreement with his position. He fully recounted many of the arguments that could be used against his contentions. After all, he pointed out, no one can predict what wonderful progress science may make in the next 100 years: look at the wonders of electricity, atomic power, airplanes, space flight, all of them either inconceivable or in their infancy 100 years ago. With these as bait, he prompted audience members to raise their hands if they believed all three of the obstacles he named in his contentions would be readily overcome in the next 100 years. About one-fifth of those attending did so. He then—amidst considerable laughter—challenged them to consider the current condition of an extremely familiar technological device (and its interface), which all of them had used at least once before that very conference session and would use again after leaving it—and which, moreover, has been commonly in use and under constant improvement for the past ***120 years*** : namely, ***the elevator***.

The basic functioning of an elevator could not possibly be simpler, nor could its interface be more elementary. There are two basic functions and two basic switches: "UP" and "DOWN," in a sense a pure binary system. In between there are a small or large (though theoretically infinite) number of floors or levels, but these are mere details, as are the "CLOSE" and "OPEN DOOR" switches, the "STOP BUTTON," and the "ALARM BELL." Yet with all this simplicity of design and purpose, virtually no two elevators we enter are ever the same or possess the same interface. As anyone knows who has tried to figure out the controls of a moving and/or misbehaving elevator, even after 120 years of development the interface is far from perfect or consistent. Add to this that there are many urgent reasons why this interface ought to have been rationalized and perfected, potential loss of clothing, arms, legs, and heads being perhaps foremost. Even if we ignore the chaos of computer interfaces that now surrounds us, are we really supposed to believe that the development of considerably more complex computer, hypertext, and MT interfaces will follow any smoother course than that logged by the elevator over the years to come? END OF ASIDE]

My next fragment is an episode and has to do with CATNYP, the New York Public Library's computerized catalog. I was using this system recently when a young man sat down at the next computer. After spending about half an hour fiddling through the help screens, he was clearly close to despair. Finally, he turned to me and whispered "Look, how do you use this thing anyway?" I asked him what he was searching for, and he told me he needed descriptions about clothing worn by the middle classes in early nineteenth century England. "I've tried `clothing,'" he lamented, "I've tried `middle classes' and I've tried `England,' but none of it works."

For the next half hour we all did our best—soon two near-by researchers were also whispering solutions—to refine (or should we say, as in Machine Translation, "pre-edit?") his question so that the computer could handle it. We ran through "garb," "apparel," "attire," and other generic hedges for "clothing," and finally our efforts were rewarded. CATNYP produced a screen listing an illustrated book that seemed to meet our friend's needs. We were elated by our collective success, but then he asked another question: "Hey, that's great, what a terrific system—now how do I bring the book up on the screen?" With some embarrassment, as though we ourselves were responsible for the system's shortcomings, we explained to him that he would have to fill out a slip, hand it in at the desk, wait ten minutes or so, and finally be handed a heavy, old-fashioned, page-ridden analogue book. He was clearly annoyed by this, and to some extent so were we.

But wait, I hear the cry ringing out, before you know it, the great computer miracle will soon have solved this. By tomorrow at the latest every single page of every single book ever written will soon be accessible, graphics, fold-outs, tables, and all—with just a few keystrokes. Those who suppose this will truly become possible, as with perfect machine translation, have not even begun to focus on the scope of the problem. In writing this paper, I made a few inquiries of librarians, and they confirmed my worst suspicions many times over.

The entire national library system long ago spent millions on "up-to date technologies" in the form of microfilm and microfiches. But even then, using a relatively inexpensive technology, they came nowhere near preserving all the world's books or periodicals but only a small fraction of the most valuable of these. Now both microfilm and microfiche are considered a passé technology, at least by computer advocates and salesmen. But by the time these new tools can possibly hope to record a comparable fraction of printed materials, what further technology will lie in wait with its own set of fabulous claims? Have we willy-nilly been placed in the position of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who had to run as fast as she possibly could simply to remain in one place?

A few decades ago some of us collected 78 RPM records, only to see them replaced by 33's and 45's, themselves later eclipsed by audio cassettes and 8-track stereo, all of them now replaced by CD's and/or their CD ROM cousins. I am once again happily collecting these last two products, but the word has been out for a few years that even their days are numbered. And at no point did any one of these remarkable media ever come close to exhausting the simply unbelievable wealth of classical music that exists in print or manuscript form. Is it any wonder that librarians are skeptical of some of the claims advanced by computer enthusiasts?

Now let's move in a bit closer to Machine Translation. I hope everyone understands that in computer terms there are distinct similarities in building a data base of any kind, whether it is to catalog books, build a thesaurus, set up an MT system, or create a model of the universe. Basically, in all these cases, what we are doing is constructing a data base, with just a few exotic (or perhaps not-so-exotic) differences thrown in. The computer doesn't care in the slightest which one you are doing. In fact, the computer never knows that it is word processing or accessing information or plotting a map or even telecommunicating or printing something on a page. In fact, the computer is so dumb that it can't even tell when it is displaying an erotic image.

When the time came to deepen the computer's relationship with printers, it had to be fed something called a page-description language—the most famous of these is "Postscript." When it was decided to store literary works in electronic form, a book-description language had to be invented—here the best known is "SGML." And with the advent of the World Wide Web, it even became necessary to produce a screen-description language—the now famous "HTML," which the experts are already discussing how to change. But in order for merely adequate machine translation to occur, it will certainly be necessary to create something far more ambitious, namely a "language-description language." Such a construct would have to take into account most phenomena that can occur in language, including semantic and contextual elements.

Here is the crux question: how is such a language-description language to be created? If we truly attempt to include a large number of linguistic aspects, then we will greatly increase the potential for error and also end up with something quite unwieldy. No matter how vast or fast our computers can become, it may still be unwieldy in human terms, and we're the ones who have to use such a program. If on the other hand, we attempt to include only a limited subset of language, then we will end up with something like the Controlled Languages evolved by Caterpillar and a few other firms and will have failed to reach our original goal. This entire conundrum brings to mind the problems encountered by cartographers in a oneminute parable by Borges, which I will now read in its entirety as my next fragment:

"Of Exactitude in Science

"...In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and that coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome, and not without some irreverence, they abandoned it to the Rigors of Sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation, no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography." (3)

Building a truly comprehensive language-description language is altogether likely to involve the same order of complexity and impracticality as this mission to build a same-scale, point-to-point map of the Empire.

But now let's turn to how Machine Translation really does work and see what lessons it holds for us. Essentially MT will work best—perhaps not perfectly even here—when you have what I call a Level Playing Field Translation setup. [slide 6, which essentially shows what is described below]

As you can see from the slide, what we have here is literally a "level playing field" with something like a tennis net in the middle. On one side, just to take one possible example, (you could have any scientific specialty at all, so let's be a trifle whimsical) you have Professional Japanese Hydraulic Biochemical MicroNuclear Space Scientists. On the other side, in the English-speaking world, we find Professional American Hydraulic Biochemical Micro-Nuclear Space Scientists. Here, except for the difference in language, you have an almost perfect match-up of knowledge and experience, so this example ought to be absolutely ideal for setting up an MT system, building terminology databases, constructing lists of new or unknown words, and pouring them into the original program.

But even here, in this nearly ideal MT setting, you can still encounter problems. What if lexical entries don't match up perfectly in the two languages? What if the scientists in the two countries aren't following the same procedures—in science or technology a near certainty? What if they don't even see themselves as performing the same steps for the same reasons? (Or what if—for some reason—they don't want the other scientists to know what they are doing?)

Any or all of this could potentially happen even in our ideal level playing field example. But what if—let's just suppose—there were some factors present that tilted the playing field a bit to either side, or tilted it for some of our experts in one direction but for others in the opposite way? [slide is tilted] Some possible instances: supposing half of the people on the Japanese side turn out to be not Professional Hydraulic Biochemical etceteras but newly trained interns instead? Or if they are in fact professionals but come from related scientific fields with slightly different terminologies? What if they are students, or merely stockholders in the company, or investigative reporters, or members of the general public who have wandered in to find out what the company is up to? Much the same questions can be asked on the American side, and the answers to questions on one side can raise further questions on the other. What happens to the translation process in any combination of these conditions, even assuming human beings are providing the translation? But, most important, what will happen to an MT system under such circumstances?

Here we come to a crucial point which I have made elsewhere in other terms. Contrary to our facile belief that there can be such a thing as a "good translation" or a "correct translation" that will work in every case, no such thing as "generic translation" may exist at all. It may simply be a convenient fiction we have employed to shield us from the true complexity of the translation process and/or as a way of reassuring ourselves or our customers that we are in all cases capable of producing a "correct translation."

Let me say this another way: there is one other crucial factor involved in a translation besides the two languages involved and the nature of the subject matter—it concerns the audience and/or the occasion for such a translation. Wherever this audience or occasion changes even slightly, there may have to be a corresponding shift in the tone of the translation. Where either of these factors changes more than slightly, we enter the territory of rejected translations, possibly even charges of incompetence. But even the most conscientious translator or translation company may not always be prepared to meet every demand these circumstances are capable of hurling at us.

What we have run into here—or perhaps it has run into us with a big stick in its hand—is the true extent of the complexity of language. It is hard enough for humans to work under such circumstances—how can we expect machines to handle them? The real explanation here may well be that we all make some outrageously false assumptions about language and are totally unaware we are doing so. Once again, we assume that we are all walking around on a level playing field, where anyone can readily communicate with anyone else across a short and easily bridged distance.

But the truth is that we do not inhabit a level playing field at all where language is concerned. On the contrary, if we were to visualize ourselves and everyone around us as walking about on stilts of completely different heights, textures, and stability, so that even our very own two stilts are not necessarily of the same height or composition, we would have a better notion of how we actually move through linguistic space and communicate with others. You can easily persuade yourself that this is true by the way you react to others the next time you are in a social situation.

We each of us have our own store of linguistic tricks and devices, and we look out almost instinctively for those who have complementary tricks and devices. Whenever we meet such a person, we become flushed with enthusiasm, sometimes even love, and go on talking forever. But we just as quickly abandon those who do not respond to our conversational rhythms. True, we also carry on everyday conversations with persons who do not share our interests or language style, but we usually do not speak at length or in detail or about more than a few topics with them. What I am trying to suggest is that there is a whole universe of language habits we are simply unaware of. And if we are not aware of them, how can we suppose that a computer can gain such awareness?

Let me now penetrate to the core of practicality about MT: its place in the office environment. In every company over a certain size, there exists at least one individual whose sole duty is to make your existence as a translator extremely unpleasant. This person may be an office manager, an accountant, or perhaps even the boss's personal assistant. In all these cases, such a person will constantly be looking for ways of saving money. Almost invariably, their gaze will fall upon the translation department, whose employees are clearly being overpaid to do work that should be accomplished in a fraction of the time.

Your doom may well be spelled if truly persuasive sales reps from an MT company pay a call, and this accountant (or whoever) falls under their spell. If you do get the sack or find yourself being retrained as an MT post-editor, you have only one consolation. As likely as not, three years later a completely new office manager (or accountant or boss's assistant) will be looking for ways to save again, and this time they will decide that the MT system costs too much and makes too many errors, and the time has come to retrain MT post-editors as humans. Your best bet in any such situation is to become as knowledgeable about MT as you possibly can be and learn how to play office politics, so as to influence the decision-making process before it happens.

Finally, I'd like to round out this paper in two ways. I started out by noting that several professional organizations and perhaps even entire academic fields are still dedicated to the goal of perfecting MT or still hold that such an option is viable. Here is a partial list of these groups and some of the conferences they have been sponsoring [slide 7, which duplicates the list shown below]:

REACHING FOR MIND: FOUNDATIONS OF COGNITIVE SCIENCE Call for Papers for the Fourth International Conference on The Cognitive Science of Natural Language Processing

LAST CALL FOR PAPERS FORMAL GRAMMAR in conjunction with the European Summer School in Logic, Language and Information

GROUNDING REPRESENTATIONS: Integration of sensory information in Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence and Neural Networks, IEE COLLOQUIUM, IEE Computing and Control Division, The School of Applied Languages, Dublin City University

The Association for Computational Linguistics Fourth International Workshop on Parsing Technologies

II International Conference on Mathematical Linguistics

Fifth International Workshop on Natural Language Understanding and Logic Programming

Many of the members of these groups are highly respected and highly paid academics, and it might seem sacrilegious to some to suggest that they can possibly fail in their goal. I nonetheless believe that most of the people in this room—perhaps even most of the people at this Conference—possess deeper and more useful knowledge about language than most of the members of these groups, who could in fact profit greatly by listening to what many of you could tell them about language.

I hope that these fragments have now begun to fall into place to some extent. And now, to conclude, let's look briefly at our first two slides again. [slides of Fengshui Compass and Llullian Wheels are shown again.] And in that context let's look at some of the diagrams produced by some MT advocates. Though only one is reproduced in the Proceedings, several will be shown at the Session itself. [four further slides serve to make the point that follows—the diagrams themselves are either pretentiously complex or simple-mindedly silly.] Someone from another planet might suppose that all these diagrams—MT, geomantic, theological, and satirical alike—shared certain characteristics. After all, they are all based on circles and other geometric figures, and they may also share in a certain circular reasoning in that they purport to represent clear and reproducible relationships between the abstract and practical realms, as do the magical drawings of many cultures and ages. But it is by no means certain that any of these diagrams fully succeeds in delineating—much less establishing—such a relationship. Each one may succeed up to a certain point only because of our self-serving desire that it should do so, even our need to believe in our own self-fulfilling prophecies. Yet each one also fails because it falls short of representing the complexities of both language and reality by several orders of magnitude and makes no allowance for the altogether variable identity of the human value at its center. Thus, it may still remain to be determined whether and/or to what extent our Doctors of Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, and Mathematical Linguistics truly differ from the Professors at the Academy of Lagado.


(1) Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Part Three, Chapter 5.

(2) Hodges, Andrew (1983) Alan Turing: The Enigma. Simon & Schuster, New York. p. 382.

(3) Ostensibly from Travels of Praiseworthy Men (1658) by J. A. Suarez Miranda, actually a part of Jorge Lu¡s Borges' A Universal History of Infamy, translated by Norman Thomas di Giovanni, London: Allen Lane, 1973.

This paper is Copyright 1995 by Information Today, Inc., Medford, NJ.

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