Georgetown–IBM experiment

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The Georgetown–IBM experiment was an influential demonstration of machine translation, which was performed during January 7, 1954. Developed jointly by the Georgetown University and IBM, the experiment involved completely automatic translation of more than sixty Russian sentences into English.[1][2]


Conceived and performed primarily in order to attract governmental and public interest and funding by showing the possibilities of machine translation, it was by no means a fully featured system: It had only six grammar rules and 250 lexical items in its vocabulary (of stems and endings). This complete dictionary was never fully shown (only the extended one from Garvin's article). Apart from general topics, the system was specialised in the domain of organic chemistry. The translation was done using an IBM 701 mainframe computer (launched in April 1953). Sentences had to be punched onto cards.

George-IBM experiment is the most known result of the MIT conference in June 1952 where were invited the all active researchers in mechanical translation field. Duncan Harkin from US Department of Defense suggested there that his department would finance a new mechanical translation project.[3] Jerome Weisner supported the idea and offered finance from the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT. Leon Dostert had been invited to the project for his previous experience with automatic corrections of translations (back then 'mechanical translation'), high impact had his interpretation system for Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. The linguistics part of the demonstration was mostly done by linguist Paul Garvin who had also good knowledge of Russian.

Over 60 Romanized Russian statements regarding a wide range of political, legal, mathematic, and scientific subjects were entered into the machine by a computer operator who knew no Russian, and the resulting English translations appeared on a printer.

The translated sentences were attentivelly chosen. Many operations of the demonstration were fitted to specific words and sentences. There wasn't also present any relational or sentence analysis which could recognize the phase structure. The approach was mostly 'lexicographic' based on dictionary where specific word had a connection with a specific rules and steps.[4]

Six rules[edit]

  • Operation 0 – There exist an exact equivalent for an translated item. Any further steps needed.[5]
  • Operation 1 – Rearrangement positions of the words. AB > BA
  • Operation 2 – The several choices problem. The result is based on the consecutive words (maximum three).
  • Operation 3 – Also several problems. But the result depends on the previous words (maximum three).
  • Operation 4 – Omissions of the lexical (morphological) item. The source item would be redundant.
  • Operation 5 – Insertion of the lexical (morphological) item. The item is not present in the output language.

Translation Examples[edit]

Russian (Romanized) English translation
Mi pyeryedayem mislyi posryedstvom ryechyi. We transmit thoughts by means of speech.
Vyelyichyina ugla opryedyelyayetsya otnoshyenyiyem dlyini dugi k radyiusu. Magnitude of angle is determined by the relation of length of arc to radius.
Myezhdunarodnoye ponyimanyiye yavlyayetsya vazhnim faktorom v ryeshyenyiyi polyityichyeskix voprosov. International understanding constitutes an important factor in decision of political questions.


Well publicized by journalists and perceived as a success, the experiment did encourage governments to invest in computational linguistics. The authors claimed that within three or five years, machine translation could well be a solved problem. However, the real progress was much slower, and after the ALPAC report in 1966, which found that the ten years long research had failed to fulfill the expectations, funding was reduced dramatically.

The demonstration was massively covered in the foreign press, but only small fraction of journalist had given a notice of the previous mechanic translation attempts.[6]


  1. ^ Nye, Mary Jo (2016). "Speaking in Tongues: Science's centuries-long hunt for a common language". Distillations. 2 (1): 40–43. Retrieved 1 February 2017. 
  2. ^ Gordin, Michael D. (2015). Scientific Babel: How Science Was Done Before and After Global English. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226000299. 
  3. ^ Reynolds, A. Craig (1954). "The conference on mechanical translation.". Mechanical Translation. 1 (3): 47–55. 
  4. ^ Reifler, Erwin (February 2–5, 1960). "The solution of MT linguistic problems through lexicography.". Proceedings of the National Symposium on Machine Translation. 
  5. ^ Dostert, Leon E. (1955). "The Georgetown–I.B.M. experiment, 124–135". Locke and Booth. 
  6. ^ Hutchins, John (1997). "From first conception to first demonstration: the nascent years of machine translation, 1947-1954. A chronology.". Machine Translation 12, 195-252. 

External links[edit]