The idea of machine translation may be traced back to 17th century. In 1629, René Descartes proposed a universal language, with equivalent ideas in different tongues sharing one symbol. In the 1950s, The Georgetown experiment (1954) involved fully-automatic translation of over sixty Russian sentences into English. The experiment was a great success and ushered in an era of substantial funding for machine-translation research. The authors claimed that within three to five years, machine translation would be a solved problem.
Real progress was much slower, however, and after the ALPAC report (1966), which found that the ten-year-long research had failed to fulfill expectations, funding was greatly reduced. Beginning in the late 1980s, as computational power increased and became less expensive, more interest was shown in statistical models for machine translation.
The idea of using digital computers for translation of natural languages was proposed as early as 1946 by A. D. Booth and possibly others. The Georgetown experiment was by no means the first such application, and a demonstration was made in 1954 on the APEXC machine at Birkbeck College (University of London) of a rudimentary translation of English into French. Several papers on the topic were published at the time, and even articles in popular journals (see for example Wireless World, Sept. 1955, Cleave and Zacharov). A similar application, also pioneered at Birkbeck College at the time, was reading and composing Braille texts by computer.
Recently, the Internet has emerged as a global information infrastructure, revolutionizing access to any information, as well as fast information transfer and exchange. Using Internet and e-mail technology, people need to communicate rapidly over long distances across continent boundaries. Not all of these Internet users, however, can use their own language for global communication to different people with different languages. Therefore, using machine translation software, people can possibly communicate and contact one to another around the world in their own mother tongue, in the near future.