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Windows on Theory
Posted by Rob Knies
The set was simple: a simulated office, with a desk, a chair, a floor lamp, a wall calendar, a row of bookshelves packed with scores of academic journals, a scraggly-looking plant at stage right—“a depressingly faithful reproduction of my office,” said Stephen Emmott.The latter, head of Computational Science at Microsoft Research, based in Cambridge, U.K., was greeting a July 14 audience, 80 strong, in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in the Chelsea area of West London for the third of 27 performances of Ten Billion.The one-man, hour-long performance, a collaboration with British stage director Katie Mitchell, was billed as an exploration of the future of life on Earth, and the pairing was intriguing. As noted in this space back in May, Mitchell is one of the United Kingdom’s pre-eminent theatrical figures. Emmott, also a professor at the University of Oxford and University College London, leads the Computational Science Lab, which focuses on developing a new kind of precise, predictive science of complex systems.In short, Ten Billion reflected nothing less than a rarely visited intersection of science and art, reflected in Emmott’s comment about the engagement: “It’s not a play, it’s not a typical scientific talk. It’s an experiment.”
I can’t read Japanese. I know it when I see it, but what I see is merely a succession of word symbols, indecipherable to my untrained eye. No matter, though, because these days, the Microsoft Translator service enables quick translations from Japanese to English, as easy as copy, paste, and click. I might not be able to read Japanese, but I have a tool at my disposal that enables me to understand documents written in that language.I can’t read the Nepali language either. But that language is not used by nearly as many people as Japanese, and, therefore, it doesn’t rank high on the list of languages to be added to translation tools. When it comes to understanding Nepali documents, I’m out of luck.That, however, could change with the commercial availability of the Microsoft Translator Hub, announced in Toronto on July 11 during the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. Now, businesses and communities have the ability to build, train, and deploy customized or built-from-scratch automatic language-translation systems. Those systems could be used to translate languages such as Nepali--or to apply to specialized domains with unique, specific terminology, such as health care, the legal profession, or technology.