Machines, Lost In Translation: The Dream Of Universal Understanding
It was early 1954 when computer scientists, for the first time, publicly revealed a machine that could translate between human languages. It became known as the Georgetown-IBM experiment: an “electronic brain” that translated sentences from Russian into English.
The scientists believed a universal translator, once developed, would not only give Americans a security edge over the Soviets but also promote world peace by eliminating language barriers.
They also believed this kind of progress was just around the corner: Leon Dostert, the Georgetown language scholar who initiated the collaboration with IBM founder Thomas Watson, suggested that people might be able to use electronic translators to bridge several languages within five years, or even less.