Transtories – Google-Translated Stories v. 2.0

A paragraph of a story Google-translated from Polish - and ready for back-translation

Both iPhone and hashtag stories are much better known than this literary experiment. I’ve been trying to use Google Translate a few times before, including Google-translated Day, but the feeling I always had was that it’s not there yet.

But now I’m fully convinced I’m doing the right thing. What’s more important: it’s not too early for that. Why? Because with a current stage of development Google Translate is able to convey more information than a man who doesn’t listen.

What is it?

The shortest description:

Flash-fiction stories written in such a way, that they can be translated by Google with a smallest number of mistakes.

I’ve changed the approach completely: now I’m helping Google to translate. Before it was just: “look how technology is devastating human’s work”.

The project is called “What they say” and lives at its own site. What I’d like to stress is that there is an idea behind the stories – in order to build a proper, meaningful context for Google Translate being used on purpose.

So what are the stories about? The lack of communication between people. Or to be more precise: the nonsense of it, as a result of different reasons: envy, vanity, money, bribe and other ones you are not willing to loudly share with the others.

The main character is Adam Labble (yes, anagram of “Babel”), an average internet addict, who has one unusual skill. He is able to find nonsense in communication and solve the issue.

He takes quick assignments in different places around the world. The stories written so far take place in Poland, USA, Egypt and Russia. Google Translate can help read them in any of the languages supported by Google.

How are the stories created?

I write a story in Polish. Then, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph I translate it to English with an online Google Translate tool. When there is a need to correct mistakes I rewrite the text. If I fail, I write again or even change a plot completely.

If a Google-made back-translation, from English to Polish, is acceptable, the story goes online.

Every story is accompanied by a Google Map area where it could possibly happen.

What’s the message?

It’s what drives my imagination: how technology is influencing human’s behavior, attitude, thinking, creativity. But there’s more to it than that.

It’s a project designed to test the usefulness of technology in a creative process. Another thing is that no matter how good is the technology at disposal, if people don’t want to understand each other, they won’t understand each other.

There is also one interesting area from a point of view of creators (human+technology). For the time being the human is lowering the skills to the level of a technology. I’m afraid it may change. One year ago Google-translated texts were not acceptable, six months ago – not good, now – not bad.

Why am I doing it?

There are a couple of good reasons. The most important one is a simple conclusion, that Internet and technology are dismantling barriers between people, especially geographic and language ones. Why not helping it a bit?

The other reason is my obsession to embrace technology in order to create. “If the technology can make you ahead of the others, use it” – it’s my motto, well seen also in iPhone-made stories.

Last thing, very important. English is not my mother tongue (you feel it, right?). No English author would come up with such an idea as Google-translated fiction. Let the rest of the world translate what they want, he may think. And that’s exactly where he’s loosing. Because no longer you have to be an established American author to be read in Indonesia or Chile. You can be a guy from Poland or Italy or Egypt. The only thing you have to do is to properly use the technology which is available for free.

What is the timeline?

Let me repeat: it’s not too early for such projects. Google Translate is widely used, also by writers, not only to understand, but also to let others understand. A famous example is Paulo Coelho’s blog, where Google translate widget is used.

I think creative people can, and should, go further. Especially that in a predictable timeframe the quality of such tools like Google Translate will improve to a level, that people and institutions will use them officially.

It’s a question of a few years, maybe even months, when Google Translate will become one of the options different apps will have. And the apps I’m talking about are RSS readers and ebook readers.

The timeline for “What they say” is to write 10-20 stories a year and observe how the quality of both of us improves. I’m sure that when I’ll be ready to publish an e-book, translating options will be already available in the e-reading applications.

Imagine: a story written in order to make it easy for Google to translate it into any language. One book which at the launch date is available in more than 50 languages? Worth trying.

I only worry that I should really hurry up.

6 Replies to “Transtories – Google-Translated Stories v. 2.0”

  1. Jaron Lanier may be a doomsayer, but I think he has a point when he says we humans have a bottomless ability to lower our standards and reduce ourselves in order to make information technology look good. This seems to me a point in case.


  2. I have often thought of doing this for the fun of it. But I was thinking of using TRANSLATION PARTY ( wherein I would translate something into Japanese and then back into English. I suppose you could do that with GT as well. Did you know that Kenji Shiratori’s BLOOD ELECTRIC is translated by a machine? Total shit. (

    Until machines can think and understand culture for themselves, I think both authors and readers should be very wary of work translated by machine. It’s just not there yet.


  3. Translation party is a fun tool. I wish it had other languages available. GT
    can do it, but you have to put each back-translation manually. Good to know
    about Blood Electric. I did experiment with using GT saute, but realized it
    could be much more fun to actually HELP GT translate the story (this is in
    what humans are still better than machines).


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