Couple of comments
by Simon at 20:08 27/05/04 (Forum::Online Communities)
The problem is that although our analysis has shown that the discussions offered considerable potential for reducing the democratic deficit in terms of the nature of the discourse, they are not used in any way. Thus, while the discussions 'help fuel the debate' and bring citizens closer to each other, they do not bring 'the European Union closer to its citizens and reduce the perception of a democratic deficit'

On the *nose* - exactly! From the extracts quoted, what seemed to be missing from the debate was anyone able to state either what the EU's agreed policy was (authoritatively) on the subject of the ideas proposed by Fettes or to offer, from the perspective of someone intimately engaged at the political level, an idea of what the various currents of thought might be.

It appears that certain sections of the EU citizenry may be capable of drawing together to discuss politely, even in debates where such a potentially explosive statement as

German as European working language would be an additional victory from Hitler and therefore has to be refused.

is made.

You may want to reference Godwin's Law in relation to the mention of Hitler in the thread started by Fettes on the Europa website. Interestingly, this particular thread seems to violate the Law - which is encouraging, I think.

Fettes apologises for his translation software, which raises an interesting point about machine-translation.

In Vernor Vinge's novel "A Fire Upon the Deep", a galactic communications network relays messages from civilisation to civilisation, using machine translation of language along the way. Anticipating the problems with the automated translations, the extracts of the 'newsgroup messages' included in the book have additional 'headers' which try to convey the degradation in meaning that has occurred as a result. Here is an example:

Crypto: 0
As received by: Transceiver Relay03 at Relay
Language path: Firetongue -> Cloudmark -> Triskweline, SjK units [Firetongue and Cloudmark are High Beyond trade languages. Only core meaning is rendered by this translation.]
... etc

Later, this point is made more explicitly:

And some messages were patent nonsense. One thing about the Net; the multiple, automatic translations often disguised the fundamental alienness of participants. Behind the chatty, colloquial postings, there were faraway realms, so misted by distance and difference that communication was impossible - even though it might take a while to realize the fact. For instance:

Crypto: 0
As received by: OOB shipboard ad hoc
Language path: Arbwyth -> Trade 24 -> Cherguelen -> Triskweline, SjK units
From: Twirlip of the Mists
Key phrases: Hexapodia as the key insight
Text of message:
... is it true Humans have six legs? If these Humans have three pairs of legs, then I think there is an easy explanation for -

Hexapodia: Six legs? Three pairs of legs? Probably none of these translations was close to what the bewildered creature of Twirlip had in its mind. Ravna didn't read any more of that posting.

I guess the key evolutionary selection pressure for any truly global online community members is going to be an ability to communicate concepts in spite of the limitations of machine, and any natural, language translation capabilities.

A "language-independent" representation of communicable concepts would be a very handy tool to have (the alleged downsides of a "babelfish" notwithstanding).

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