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The Golem Dictionary

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about machine translation. As a rather fresh and relatively new-in-the-game translator, I can’t help but flinch in horror whenever someone posts a new “translation solution” video or article.

I don’t want to be replaced by a machine. My art and science (as I can call it now, as I’ve literally been a professional translator for years now) is a highly meticulous, sometimes even poetic enterprise. The very idea that a machine might one day replace my heartfelt efforts to convey one language and culture into another does not only leave me with a feeling of impotence –

I makes me dread the fate of humanity.

If a machine could translate as well as a human do, it must then follow that it can truly, or at least apparently, relate to human beings, rather than just crunch up algorithms into intelligible language.

The year is 2011. Whenever I try using google translate, it comes off as ungrammatical, often nonsensical – of course, as a human, and as a translator used to plying out the true meaning hidden deep in a pile of gibberish, I can understand “the gist” of GT outputs… But that’s only because I’m human, and a translator – and even I find myself sometimes flabbergasted at what the hell happened to the source text after Google had tortured it into a blasphemous blind idiot translation.

But what if machines COULD translate, could relate to humans well enough to really sympathize with them – be capable of understanding their intentions by doing the research and identifying the true intent of the source, and beautifully lay it out in perfect-grammar target.

It’s not just translators who become redundant – it’s Humans. If a machine can be creative and sympathetic enough to truly translate, as a professional, skilled human translator could – then machines can also be scientists, bloggers, poets, authors, inventors

Our machines will replace us, they shall become a race of former robots, now sentient beings, far surpassing us in intelligence.

It’s not so much my financial future I worry about, but whether an occupation in the future exists for me at all, where I could do better than a machine, or anyone could.


Rue how


men such as I are so engrossed

in how war explains, in detail

their lives with such profundity

that pacifism, reconciliation, diplomacy

are so immaterial to their ends


I often get the nasty notion that in many respects, I’m a horribly underachieving person. I’m untidy, rather callous, careless and self-centered. I eat and drink too much, I respond disproportiantely to a great deal of things, and in many subtle and stealthy ways, I have little tiny prickles of evil all over the DMZ of my personality.

So, how do I explain the fact that I’m still, on the whole, a rather amiable person, am considered smart, responsible and useful to employers and peers, and am generally depended upon (definitely by the people close to me)?

Well, this is probably an oversimplification (something that science does run-of-the-mill), but I think that this can be explained, plainly, by “averaging” of traits.

In my opinion, while in most fields I am average or slightly above average in abilities and achievement, there are a few fields in which I am very good or even extremely good at. I’m superb at languages, semantics and connotative analysis. I got extremely fast fingers (which I employ very well as a means of making a living, making an hourly sum surpassing that of my peers immensely). I usually have a superb memory and an uncanny ability to draw the most elusive of memories long after people have forgotten about them.

The mishaps I have with my personality are balanced by my enormous devotion to the people and things I care about: my carelessness is balanced by my exaggerated sense of duty to a selected cause (so even if I spent all of my life living in a shithole, if I make it my business to be tidy, I’ll be tidy, and extravagantly so)

This would be a trivial observation if it weren’t for this implied derivation: perhaps the reason I allow myself my vices is that they are a luxury I subconsciously grant myself due to my virtues.

Maybe it’s some sort of “negative decompensation mechanism” that human beings (and other animals) have when they can allow themselves to take bad advantage of their “wealth”. It’s myopic and destructive in the long run (hence my current attempts to diet out the little beerbelly I’ve grown this past few months) – but in the short run, I could never escape the notion that I could simply “get away with it”.

Ultra-consvered pseudo-junk DNA?

Here‘s why I’m dreaming of one day becoming a developmental biologist and/or geneticist. Stanford researchers identified a group of DNA regions which are extremely conserved (80-100 million years of mammalian evolution and going strong) in macaque monkeys, mice, dogs and humans. They could call this DNA “junk” because it’s redundant, at least on the short scale.

Junk DNA on its own is a fascinating phenomenon. It’s curious that some regions are in fact called “junk” and by the same token, extent the metaphor in the respect that even junk can be useful, and if not to its original owner, then to someone else. You can call ERV’s junk, but I bet the original viruses didn’t think so, and you can call a hypothetical stretch of DNA with an apparently invisible or completely redundant function that serves nothing but aiding commensal organisms junk, and, again, I bet they wouldn’t think so.

It’s also important to define junk DNA on the basis that the removal of junk DNA affects no physiological function in the organism, even more undoubtedly when there are copies of DNA that are partially removed, leaving other copies intact.

Since having an excess is in fact having too much (I can get a copy or two of a seemingly meaningless strand of DNA, but hundreds and thousands? Improbable and effectively ridiculous) – these DNA regions are appropriately called junk.

But, see, here’s the thing: because junk DNA is classically known to be neutral and its removal or modification are observed to be undamaging, I think this particular research shows rather clearly that it is NOT, in fact, junk DNA.

In case some creationist twerp decides to quote-mine this, I do not mean that this research shows evidence of a divine plan in our nucleic acids. The evidence obviously shows that this DNA is important, but nobody can figure out why, and more interestingly, to whom.

The researchers suggested that it could be a special “immunity” bank, to be deployed should a particular disease or bacterial infection comes about.

I find this suggestion curious and I think I can stretch it even further: it is possible that mammalian evolution allowed for certain mechanisms to stay relatively dormant to allow greater response to a selection pressure that comes regularly to a species, or even to the entire mammalian class.
It is unlikely, however, that such special genetic equipment stays precisely the same for 100 million years. Even if a series of great extinctions bottlenecked the entire mammalian population in the near past, that is, the past 65 million years, it is laughably improbable that complete regions remain ultra-conserved for ANY reason, even, perhaps, “anti-extinction genes”.

There has to be a more likely, simpler (and probably harder to detect) explanation to the conservation of pseudo-junk regions. If the reason for the conservation is elusive enough to escape detection after being pulled out of the genome without harming the organism, it is possible that the only reason that this DNA is conserved is because it serves its own purpose as a “hijacker DNA strand”. This is a phenomenon called “drive” by geneticists, and there’s already a huge repository of documented cases for drive, even in whole chromosomes. Perhaps the only thing unique about these stretches of DNA is that they somehow inhibit their own mutative nature. Should ANY region be able to do just that, you could say that it’s got the most positive selection pressure thinkable.

I’m only surprised this doesn’t happen more often. Then again, it is possible that other regions of DNA would benefit just as much by producing qualities that inhibit the inhibition of these selfish DNA regions to mutate.