Monday, January 12, 2009

Online crowdsourced translation

I was jumping between videos on Youtube (Jatropha yields 6 times as much usable biofuel precursor oil as soy or corn, AirNZ did a testflight :) when I found a video from a Korean Mushroom grower. It had a voiceover competing with machine noise, but this was spoken by a young woman with.. pretty fluent English, not perfect, but quite good. I found myself thinking 'What if these people and others like them had a good, free(?) translation service online?' Would they be more likely to do business with English speaking customers or business partners? Could the reverse be true?

So here's the idea: Online crowdsourced translation.

Like Wikipedia, it utilises the 'wisdom of the crowds' - not to record all human knowledge, but to enhance language skills and improve communication between different cultures and countries.

It could be free and wiki-based to keep the individual effort needed minimal.
It could have a reputation system, so that prolific, competent translators could be lauded.
It could charge a fee for fast translations, or for privacy (keeping the translation effort within a group of high reputation contributors). If it was to be as charitable as Wikipedia, this money should be channeling towards upkeep and enhancement of the service.

The value proposition for people needing translations is clear - like Wikipedia, they go there for better information. The value proposition for contributors is less clear. Maybe they could go there and perform some minimal effort for charity. I edit Wikipedia for charitable purposes, but I go there initially because I want some information - I want to profit from some of that charity myself.
Perhaps they could do it for monetary reward. Though I think the service would work best if it were at least primarily free. Perhaps if paid, fast, private translations were offered first to those with a high reputation on the site (a reputation gained by first performing free translations)?
They could do it in the expectation that one day they themselves would need a free translation.
They could do it to learn another language better.
They could do it to make friends with people from other cultures (remember, weak social links are powerful).
They could do it to learn what other cultures are interesting in right now.

Throughout this thought experiment I've been thinking not of translating straight from one language to another, but just of improving the spelling and grammar of work already translated by people with less than fluent language skills. The former is more useful (and is already done pretty well by software) - the latter is more amenable to the 'wisdom of the crowds' approach. After all, more people speak a language fluently and can understand less than perfect use of that language than can speak more than one language fluently.

One last thought: This will be a useless service eventually, as software translation gets better. But it could make a nice improvement to international relations and trade in the short term, and could perhaps be adapted in the future to more specific knowledge, such as locally correct spelling and dialectic words (what is the most accurate transation of the New Zealand 'Sweet as, bro' to an audience in California? in Ontario? in St. Petersburg?).

There's certainly a large audience of people who would like a better shop sign for tourists or an international press release, or just to learn another language that little bit better. Markets are global and China and India are growing fast.

A crossposting testpost

Oh why must I have ads on livejournal in order to post by email? ugh.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

point the projector at the mill

Most sustainable living methods, and the communities built using them ('EarthShips' in Taos, New Mexico; World Help Training Center in Macon, GA; ) that I've read of fundamentally depend on the rapid, just-in-time delivery of information to where it is needed - such as: educating people to build a house, grow vegetables, etc.

One of the interesting uses of Augmented Reality in use today is in assisting workers to perform their job well, ie. when they're learning, because if you've absorbed the perfect way to machine that part or test that jet engine, you don't need a learning aid, unless your job is quite varied and complex. This usually involves a Heads Up Display of some kind, or a screen on your arm that displays something helpful (Tab A in Slot B, before inserting worm screw C).

It occurred to me just now that a possible cheaper way to get this same functionality would be to display this relevant information on a screen near the workspace, or perhaps more effectively, by projecting an image of the desired state of the work or procedure to be followed onto the workspace itself. Lathe the piece of steel like this, until it looks like this. I was thinking of this in terms of workspaces that don't move around much and are located indoors.

It probably isn't feasible to do anything less than have the display right up against your eyeball if you're learning how to plant that new crop out in the garden, but it could be cheap and flexible if it were applied to the workspace around one of those interesting bootstrap mills in Africa. Most other hippy, sustainability oriented training could be done with a laptop/smartphone in the room with you. Outside? Maybe an OLPC, or just a podcast.

The Wiki with the sustainability tech-tree needs to be built alongside it.. where are they anyway? The closest I've seen would be Instructables.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Spimey, hackerish thoughts-I blame Bruce Sterling

IR cameras in houses:
Fire detection
Intruder detection
Temperature management (wise house + ventilation, shade)
Presence detection (turn off the light when I leave plz Hal)

That's a lot of theoretical functionality just from some dumb, cheap cameras + some smarts (whether it's a centralised puter, or embedded in each camera module in the classic Spime model)
Webcams alone could do all that bar the temperature sensing..

"The US, much of Western Europe,
Japan, maybe Korea, are already more than capable of producing a house,
car, furniture, appliances, clothing, and food for all of their inhabitants
using capital (though perhaps not resources) that already exists within
their countries."

NZ can do most of those, but not Appliances
RepRap/Arduino appliances?
Is it possible to make most basic appliances from a few basic, open source hardware elements?

Kettles, Food cooker things: Are little more than a heating element + thermometer
Washing machines and electric drills are both based around that olde timey electric motor
Stereos and computers are more specialised, but the Arduino got very cheap and versatile pretty much just by crowdsourcing/open sourcing it's design

If we could make the basic functionality from simple, modular components - and wrap the thing in a 3D printed plastic shell locally - we could remove a dependency on overseas economies, and save money and carbon by minimising the distances they'd need to be transported.

"Jon was asking what kind of nifty designer gizmos I'm into this
season... I'm still interested in the networked commons. A social
invention that enables social inventions.

If markets don't work, and central allocation doesn't work either,
then a commons makes a lot more sense to a lot more people. It gets
easier to fight off the vampire hordes of commercial IP creeps who want
to monetize everything, lock it down with legal barbed-wire, and make
sure the fix stays in. Because they're broke. So why not try
something that's not nailed to collapsing cash-flows?

"Commons-based peer production." That seems to be opening up new
spaces for contemporary thought and action. It might enable new modes
of getting by in tough times.

I find myself impressed that young people, my students, the Internet
natives, they don't seem aware how different the digital commons is
from previous ways of organization. Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist,
Facebook even, they simply think that's how the real world works. It's
like a HERE COMES EVERYBODY where they're already here.

The commons offers ways out of the glum solipsist autarchy of hippie
homesteads and survivalist city-states. If you're gonna "do it
yourself" with a wireless Linux netbook, you're not doing it Robinson
Crusoe style. You've got the collective labor of a couple million guys
there under your arm. This is not a "virtual community" WELL-style.
It's more like a huge, anonymous public infrastructure of aqueducts.
But if you're getting clean free water, why buy that bottled stuff they
marketeers flew in Fiji?

This peer-production stuff used to look very hobbyist and geekish and
rickety. It was hotglue and strapping-tape. It's still not
"mainstreaming," it will likely never have commercial gloss. Still,
it's acquiring some kind of commons-gloss. It looks better, it works
better, it performs with more functionality in wider areas of life.
It has escaped its geek ghetto. Normal people no longer apologize to
their bosses for using open-source components, or for finding things
out on the "unreliable" Internet.

Hardware commons and instructables interest me quite a lot.

The trend toward make-and-do labs and hacker spaces is also of keen
interest to me -- not just what gizmos people are designing and making,
but how the infrastructure of designing and making is itself breaking
up and reassembling in new component-sets. "User Experience Design."
Good God, what *isn't* "user experience design"? It sounds like the
most vaporous thing on earth, but the way those guys talk is completely

I'm wondering what happens if somebody makes a small town
commons-based. The street lights, the parking meters, they've all got
APIs... you get to hack the sewers, repaint the streets... all the
building regulations go up for grabs... Would it be a grimy hippie dive
like Christiania, or might it get suave and geeky-upscale, like the
Google campus?

Suppose you found some dead James Howard Kunstler strip-mall burg,
bought it for a dollar, and turned it into "OpenSource-opolis" where
every possible object and service was creatively commonized. Would
that be heaven, hell -- or what we've got now only different?"

Bruce Sterling in a very interesting conversation on the Well