Bow-lingual: The next Translation Server?

Two things happened to me last week that prompted me to fritter away a Sunday afternoon blogging. The first was an excellent post by a friend of mine around the translation capabilities of Lotus Connections. The second was the discovery, or re-discovery, of the “bow-lingual” – a “Ma Self” original (circa Christmas 2005) – while cleaning out my desk over the weekend. “Bowlingual” as described by my Engineer Boyfriend is a total hoax. The “Magic 8 Ball of the Animal Kingdom” he declares it. Designed to “randomize responses or comments whenever it heard anything approximating a bark” (we will prove this wrong shortly, see below) — who would buy such a ridiculous contraption!?! (FYI – As of Sunday “Ma Self” vehemently denies purchasing said “bowlingual”.) In fact Engineer Boyfriend was so incensed (read intrigued) by this device that he snatched it out of my unsuspecting hands and stole off into his little engineer cave to begin assembling it. I didn’t hear from him for another 15 minutes until he returned and instructed me to “Strap it on him and make him bark”.  “Him” being Myles – our test subject who was completely content chewing on my toothbrush.

For easily the next forty-five minutes the two of us grown adults ran around the apartment like two crazy people, jumping up and down, making our best “woof!” and “bark!” sounds, running into the hallway and knocking on the front door, pretending to act scared, surprised, shocked. Nothing worked. Myles occasionally looked up from my toothbrush but overall kept a tight lip – i.e. he didn’t bark. 

Just about to give up, I grabbed a sausage treat. I dangled it in front of Myles’ nose. He started Bark-Yelling at the top of his little lungs, and at that moment, given the situation, I knew exactly what he was saying, I didn’t need “bowlingual” to interpret. “Gimmmmmeeeeee sausage! Sausage! Sausage! I neeeeeed sausage! Pant. Pant. Pant. Oh man, sausage.”

Did “bowlingual” agree?  We rushed to grab the transmitter device (yes, there is both the neck contraption for the dog, and the receiver for the owner) to see. After about two minutes of “thinking” (Gotta wonder if behind the scenes this thing is runnin’ Portal or something!) “bowlingual” told us the what Myles had actually said was “I’m scared. Get away from me”.  Someone was actually able to patent this thing?!?

Long story short (cause we continued to waste an entire weekend playing with this thing) here is what I am wondering. Given the relative inaccuracy of the bowlingual – do we at IBM feel there is anyway that we could improve upon it? Possibly bring it “in house” and give it a “blue wash”. Make it so incredibly hard to use but yet so completely precise that not only could we translate our software into our traditionally served languages but also to those who are currently unserved. Possibly to our friends in the animal kingdom.
In fact after a few tweaks on the current “bowlingual” I was able to conduct the following interview.

Angela: Myles what does “dogear” means to you?

Myles: Pant. Pant. (He was thinking here). Baaaaaarkk. Woof. Woof. Bark, arf, arf, growl, bark, bark. Woooooof. (He had a lot to say).

Bowlingual: Myles said. Dogear? Dogear?!?! Are you making fun of my ears. I am so tired of people picking on my damn ears. Lay off the ears!