A BREACH IN LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Moshi-moshi? Nan no goyoo desuka? English speakers who call Japan may be puzzled by those words. But don't despair. Work is under way to convert these questions into a familiar "Hello? May I help you?"
Automated translation of both ends of telephone conversation held in two different languages probably will not become reality for a decade or so. However research is now being conducted at several American, European and Japanese universities and at electronics companies. One such project, launched by Japan's Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, will receive $107 million from the Japanese government, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and a handful of corporate giants - for the first seven years alone. IBM is one sponsor of similar efforts at Carnegie-Mellon University. The goal is a system that will produce text out of the speech sounds of one language, analyze and translate it in context and reconvert the translated signals into speech.
One day callers may simply need to hook their telephones up to personal computers and plug-in voice-recognition and synthesizing units to "converse" in a foreign language. They will also need a data file on the grammar of their own language and those they don't speak. (Such files already exist in Japanese and English and are being developed for French, German and Spanish.) Another requirement is "universal parser" software that identifies the relations between the words .in a sentence and locates analogous constructions in the target language from the data files. Such parsers already perform satisfactory text-to-text translations. But they need to become faster, more accurate and less expensive before they can translate actual speech.
Speech-recognition modules convert sound signals into digital pulses. The computer matches the digitized data to the phonemes-the shortest pronounceable segments of speech - registered in its software. Files can contain enough phonemes to cover most of the
local derivations from the standard form of a given language. However, voice-recognizing equipment cannot yet tell actual speech from other sounds it picks up: laughter, crying, coughs and further background noises. Voice synthesizers, which reconvert the translated text into sounds, are further ahead than recognition units: they do not have to cope with the whimsical pronunciations and unpredictable noises emitted by humans.
A GL1MPSH OF AIRPORT
Baggage handling is the least efficient part of air travel. An astounding amount of airline baggage goes to wrong destinations, is delayed, or lost entirely. Airport executives point woefully to the many opportunities for human error which exists with baggage handling.
Freight is now going aboard Flight Two in a steady stream. So is mail. The heavier-than-usual mail load is a bonus for Trans America. A flight of British Overseas Airways Corporation, scheduled to leave shortly before Trans America Flight, has just announced a three-hour delay. The post office supervisor, who keeps constant watch on schedules and delays, promptly ordered a switch of mail from the BOAC airliner to Trans America. The British airline will be unhappy because carriage of mail is. highly profitable, and competition for post office business keen. All airlines keep uniformed representatives at airport post offices, their job to keep an eye on the flow of mail and ensure that their own airline got a "fair share"—or more-of the outgoing volume. Post office supervisors sometimes have favourites among the airline men and see to it that business comes their way. But in cases of delay, friendships doesn't count. At such moments there is an inflexible rule: the mail goes by the fastest route.
Inside the terminal is Trans America Control Centre. The centre is a bustling, jam-packed, noisy conglomeration of people, desks, telephones, teletypes, private-line TV and information boards. Its personnel are responsible for directing the preparation of all Trans America flights. On occasions like tonight with schedules chaotic because of the storm, the atmosphere is pandemonic, the scene resembling an old-time newspaper city room, as seen by Hollywood.
MY Mr. JONES
I was one time Mr. Jones' lodger but I had to leave him because I could not see eye to eye with my landlord in his desire to dine in dress trousers, a flannel shirt, and a shooting coat. I had known him ever since I was a kid, and from boyhood up this old boy had put the fear of death into me. Time, the great healer, could never remove from my memory the occasion when he found me - then a stripling of fifteen - smoking one of his special cigars in the stables. Since then I have trodden on his toes in many ways. I always felt that unless I was jolly careful and nipped his arrogance in the bud, he would be always bossing me. He had the aspect of a distinctly resolute blighter. You have to keep these fellows in their place. You have to work the good old iron-hand-in-the-velvet-glove wheeze. If you give them a what's -its-name, they take a thingummy.
But now he was a rather stiff, precise sort of old boy, who liked a quiet life. He was just finishing a history of the family or something, which he had been working on for the last year, and didn't stir much from the library. He was rather a good instance of what they say
about its being a good scheme for a fellow to sow his wild oats. I'd been told that in his youth he had been a bit of a bounder. You would never have thought it to look at him now.
POLLING THE PEOPLE
Opinion polls are on their strongest ground when the question put seeks to define a proposed pattern of behaviour. That is why the "will you vote conservative, labour, liberal or abstain" type of question has shown a fairly high correlation with actual election results in spite of occasional wild lapses. Most people, whether or not they are able to rationalize their attitudes are generally aware of a change in their political allegiance or enthusiasm. The answer is therefore meaningful. For the same reason a question such as "do you think Mr. X will make a good minister?" evokes a response in which the variation has some statistical significance.
But the introduction of abstract concepts immediately reduces the validity of the whole procedure. The term "standards of living", for example, means many different things to different people. It can be defined fairly precisely by economists, but it means something quite different to an old-age pensioner supporting herself in her own cottage, to a skilled printer living in a council house with a family of earning teenagers, and to the director of a large company. And since the standard of living as opposed to the illusion of higher money income, has in fact barely increased by a statistically perceptible amount within the last year, what significance should be attached to the fact that 23 per cent of those asked in the poll think that their standard of living has increased?
HISTORY AND HARD HEADS
Never in the long range of history has the world been in such a state of flux as it is today. Never has there been so much anxious questioning, so much doubt and bewilderment, so much examining of old institutions, existing ills, and suggested remedies. There is a continuous process of change and revolution going all over the world, and anxious statesmen are at their wits' end and grope about in the dark. It is obvious that we are a part of this great world problem, and must be affected by world events. And yet little attempt is made to understand forces that are shaking and reforming the world before our eyes. Without this understanding history, whether past or present, becomes just a magic show with no lesson for us which might guide our future path. On the gaily-decked official stage phantom figures come and go, posing for a while as great statesmen. Their main concern is how to save the vested interests of various classes or groups; their main diversion, apart from feasting, is self-praise. Some people, blissfully ignorant of all that has happened in the last half-century, still talk the jargon of the Victorian Age and are surprised and resentful that nobody listens to them. Even the Nasmyth hammer of war and revolution and world change has failed to produce the slightest dent on their remarkably hard heads.