The dostoevsky machine in Georgetown: Scientific translation in the cold war

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Machine Translation (MT) is now ubiquitous in discussions of translation. The roots of this phenomenon — first publicly unveiled in the so-called ‘Georgetown-IBM Experiment’ on 9 January 1954 — displayed not only the technological utopianism still associated with dreams of a universal computer translator, but was deeply enmeshed in the political pressures of the Cold War and a dominating conception of scientific writing as both the goal of machine translation as well as its method. Machine translation was created, in part, as a solution to a perceived crisis sparked by the massive expansion of Soviet science. Scientific prose was also perceived as linguistically simpler, and so served as the model for how to turn a language into a series of algorithms. This paper follows the rise of the Georgetown program — the largest single program in the world — from 1954 to the (as it turns out, temporary) collapse of MT in 1964.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-223
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History and Philosophy of Science


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