No one’s immune from the effects of deep practice

I love this video. Thanks John Burk for sending it my way. In this tutorial the programming mavens at Google wish to introduce us to a new feature that will boost their cred as the world’s “data brokers.” This will increase revenue by bringing in more advertising business, which will further fund Eric Schmidt’s mission of “collecting all the world’s data and making it accessible to everyone.” Watch.

Job well done, Google. But in this video, you’ve done much more than tout your own products.  You’ve made universal the notion of deep practice.

In the video the narrator explains that, contrary to common suspicion, Google does not have a workforce of elves translating our documents from a cubicle-lined warehouse somewhere in Mountain View, CA.

Instead, Google uses a process called “statistical machine translation,” which he describes as a process in which machines “generate translations based on large amounts of text.”

Rather than learning language by applying vocabulary to a set of rules, Google’s computers analyze millions upon millions of documents that have already been translated.  They look for “statistically significant patterns.”  Once it detects a pattern, it attempts to use that pattern in the future.  When a user rejects the translation, the computer learns that this pattern is not as consistent as it once thought.  It makes adjustments, seeks for “sub-patterns” (my word), and engages in continued analysis.

Over an over again, Google’s computers are testing patterns, detecting new patterns, and finding new documents to analyze, further increasing the possible combinations of patterns. As he says, “when you have billions of documents, you have billions of patterns.”

Question: Are Google’s computers engaging in “deep practice?”

One thought on “No one’s immune from the effects of deep practice

  1. Ted,
    On the media also did a great story on Bridging the online language divide; it talks a lot about GT, and you may find it interesting. It also talks about Meedan, a site that offers stories on middle east affairs with english and arabic versions paired side-by-side, which has created some fascinating dialogue.

    I had a couple of questions for you that I’m curious about:
    1. As google translate gets better and better, how do you begin to handle it in the classroom? Do teachers worry about students simply writing essays in english and then translating them into spanish via GT? I imagine this would be easy to spot now, since it would create comically good or comically bad translations, but I’m not sure this will always be the case.

    2. I loved Coyle’s, which is also beautifully elaborated in Colvins’ “Talent is Overrated.” . Have you come up with a specific idea of what deep practice looks like in language and how to help students do it regularly? I find this to be a big challenge in physics.

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