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Monday, March 29, 2010


Do you know what a US military or NSA intelligence guy would love? To be able to monitor real time conversations held anywhere in the world and particularly these days on the net. Only you need to know hundreds if not thousands of languages to do that.

Not for long it might seem. Google Translate presents in my opinion one of the giant leap for such snoopers and an inconsequential nitwit ranting in vernacular on the web may well find himself hauled in for questioning.

Consider this.

Google's Motto is "See no evil." It's mission: To organize the world's information. It's working environment? Employees spend 80 per cent of their time working on company stuff and 20 per cent working on their own innovative stuff which if brilliant or innovative enough can make it through the vetting teams of top engineers and become the next cool thing from Google.

The company is admired though suffice to say its above reproach image took a battering when it pandered to the whims of the Chinese Communist government and allowed its content to be censored on the mainland so that offending images such as the 1989 Tiananmen Riots during which thousands of demonstrating students are thought to have been massacred could be blocked from innocent civilians eyes.

Anyway, recently, a Google dude was in town. His mission? To meet with scribes and show them cool things you can do with Google's applications such as search (Did you know you can multiply numbers and do other mathematical calculations on the Google Search bar?) as well as convert currency on it? Such is the definition of cool.

Some time back at the Mobile World Congress CEO Eric Schmidt trotted a German techie who works for Google to demonstrate image and voice search along with translate technology.

Basically you can take a string of words from one language enter them into Google Translate and they come out in the language you wish them to. Useful for interpreting a Chinese menu perhaps.

Anyway, this Lan fellow for that is his name demonstrated both Google Translate and Google Books.

Curiously, he let slip that Google is very interested in local language books such as those written in Luhya and Luo as well as Kikuyu and Kamba and so on.

Why? Apparently its all part of the effort to organize the world information.

True it would put our literature out there but Mr. Lan did not mention that it is also a very useful way of helping out Google's Translate application.

For you see unlike other translation programs, Google Translate relies on thousands and thousands of scanned texts which it cross references to make sense of things in different languages.

It works best when it has bi-lingual texts to compare.

So when Google says it is interested in scanning Luhya or Kikuyu texts it is not just to archive such literature but also to help its translation program.

From there you can see that anything typed in Facebook or blogged online in any language can be quickly translated. US Military intelligence guys must be following the project keenly.

It is going to take sometime although with Kiswahili Google has done quite a lot and in Uganda it has been working with Literature scholars and other Academicians to translate some of the dialects.

Of course if they spent enough time on the ground they would also realize that you can simply stand at a religious rally in Kenya especially the pentecostals and evangelicals and tape the preacher plus his translator. Outsource the transcription work to Kencall and you can grow your bilingual texts by multiples every Sunday!


  1. Woyee!! This is such a load.. and you can call it. language kikuyu or luganda is so important that if translated it would give security agencies "makmende scale" powers. Really?

    ..success and profit is so foreign to Africa you must come by it via some dishonest means and so making money/profit = evil. Really?

    ..every large corporation in Africa comes to do Good (not to grow wealth and businesses) and therefore should 'Google translate' benefit from language text archiving, she has deviated from doing good and has become evil. really?

    ..again what a load ... and you can call it!


  2. Dark African

    Semantics aside, I think you missed the point. What I'm trying to say is that Google's stated reason for wanting to scan local language texts is for purposes of gathering and organizing the world's information.

    Nowhere do they actually say that in fact it is a very useful tool for growing their Google Translate service which in turn can be used to great advantage not just by military people but by corporations wishing to advertise across multi-lingual global markets.

  3. Your write up pretends that Google is some non-profit which is very naive. What? you expect to be told "and Google plans to have some advantage from its free services"?

    It seems fairly obvious that the ability to translate directly impacts the ability to organize.

    The whole angle about security is just silly.

    Making translate work for all languages is good for everybody. Frankly some languages are on their way out if this does not happen.

    If you intended to do a treatise of corporate mission statements then do one but this "I caught Google thing" seems to rather expose your deep but unfounded (in this case) mistrust for corporations and has little to do with stated objectives.