I spend a lot of time browsing Slashdot, the self-proclaimed source of “stuff that matters”. One of the headlines last week left me in a parsing dilemma. It said, baldly,
Studios OK Burning Movie Downloads
My first attempt at parsing brought out something like “It’s OK for studios to burn their (presumably out-of-date) movies” but then the “download” word didn’t fully fit in. Then, being of a suspicious nature when it comes to Slashdot grammar, I wondered whether there was an apostrophe missing from “Studios” and this was an announcement of a studio (whoever that is) with an OK (Optical Killer?) which is burning movie downloads. Finally, after a number of other false starts, I realised that
- “OK” is a verb in this context, “studios” being the subject
- “burning” has nothing to do with burning but with writing to a disc
Many years ago I toyed briefly with computer translation. It was sentences like this, that many normal human beings have trouble parsing, that made me realise it was impossible. Anyway, I thought I’d see what BabelFish would make of it. In translating into German, it came closer than any of my early attempts with:
Studios heissen brennende Film-Downloads gut
For non-German speakers, this basically means that the studios say that combusting film downloads are good. It got the OK as a verb but missed the double-entendre on “burning”.
I spend a lot of my working (and waking) hours on the fringes of artificial intelligence (not “insemination” with which it is sometimes confused)—particularly with programs that learn from observing human behaviour. David Corfield spends a significant part of Towards a Philosophy of Real Mathematics dealing with automated theorem provers (and generators). There appears to be an intellectual drive which can only be satisfied by proving that our thought processes can be replicated by a machine. Which could then have that thought and save us the work. A bit like the program I saw once which played patience (the card game) with itself.