Author Archives: Danae Theocharaki

Lost in Translation

Danae Theocharaki

It is interesting to see how people tend to rely on tech platform or tools to find the correct answer, the right solution, the best option. Even though that can be true, for a myriad of things, people with good knowledge of more than one language who have come across Google Translate know and will divert you from fully trusting this tool. But we never really think of the why. Since this tool isn’t an actual human translator available 24/7 for every language, what we’re seeing (“the target”) is, simply put,  the result of the “decoding” process that has occurred by translate word by word. 


The insert tokens into the “source” text box:

“I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.” ― Hermione Granger

Greek Translation:

” Ελπίζω να είστε ευχαριστημένοι με τον εαυτό σας. Θα μπορούσαμε όλοι να σκοτωθούμε – ή χειρότερα, να αποβληθούμε. Τώρα αν δεν σας πειράζει, θα κοιμηθώ. “


“Retokenizing the tokens”:

“I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”

“I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”

“Ελπίζω να είστε ευχαριστημένοι με τον εαυτό σας. Θα μπορούσαμε όλοι να σκοτωθούμε – ή χειρότερα, να αποβληθούμε. Τώρα αν δεν σας πειράζει, θα κοιμηθώ. “

“Ελπίζω να είστε ευχαριστημένοι με τον εαυτό σας. Θα μπορούσαμε όλοι να σκοτωθούμε – ή χειρότερα, να αποβληθούμε. Τώρα αν δεν σας πειράζει, θα κοιμηθώ.”

The contents of the translated sentence can somewhat make sense, however the actual tone and conjugations can be considered pretty far off. To begin with, the quotation marks have not been “translated” properly and would be « ». It happens that the verbs in this sentence are directed towards more than one person which in English is indicated by the presence of the word “yourselves”. In Greek there are two different tones, the “formal” (for someone older than you or of higher position/rank) and the “informal”. However, Google Translate will always translate the verbs into a plural audience which also happens to be similar to the formal tone, making it unrecognisable and also wrong if only referring to one person. Finally, grammatically it has many errors which highlights the boundaries of “machine translation”. 

In Semiotics: The Basics (2017), Chandler discusses Susanne Langer’s interpretation; “symbolic signs ‘are not proxy for their objects but are vehicles for the conception of objects “. Even though this isn’t the strongest example of a sentence for my following point, I wonder if the word changed is meaning then doesn’t the concept of it change too? Exploring this further signifies the relationship between a specific word and its representation/concept/definition but also the unique significance of each sign as “a sign of a sign”.  (Derrida trough Chandler). 



Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007. Excerpts.

Prof. Irvine, “Introduction to Key Terms and Concepts: Code.”

Homo sapiens, the Symbolic Species

The debate of whether or not human beings should be classified in the same taxon as the African great apes has been a long going conversation. While watching and reading the material for this week, I realized that these concepts were diving into and revealing the foundations of this very broad question that people (both in and out of the world of academia and research) have been struggling to come to terms with. I mention this because primate taxonomy is primarily categorized based on physiological, skeletal, behavioral and cognitive characteristics. Putting the physiological and skeletal characteristics aside, everything else if what makes Homo sapiens unique and places us on a different level of intelligence than other species. 

However, our distinct state of human consciousness and theory of mind are results and products of our capacity to be “symbolic species”. Through the use of symbols as early as the creation of obsidian flakes and cave drawings to the development of any form of written language, has actually formed us as to who we are today, what we were in the past and what we will continue to be in the future, as human beings. One of the fascinating aspects of this is the realization that without symbols and without the use of those, it is highly unlikely that humans would have been able to survive. This might sound extreme but in reality, the constructs that societies have created over time are based on symbols, it is the “interface to a deep dependant history” (Henshilwood). Maybe it is a certain type of carved stone in the shape of a bird that allowed people to form the first characteristics of a belief system, a religion, a praise in a higher being. Maybe those poked sea shells were the first steps of an exchange system, an economic measurement, the first steps towards a barter economy, which thousands and hundreds of years later ended up being today’s notions of trade, capitalism, etc. Even things such as weapons or makeup, were all a part of human life thousands of years ago even though nowadays people associate them with more recent “modern human behavior” (yet another debate about what we define as “modern behavior”), they were just depicted differently than what/how they are today. As most of the readings emphasize, what distinguishes us from other animals is our symbolic behavior, thought, cognition, etc. We are our present because of the past. At some point, somewhere back in time, the world as we know it today had to start from a ground zero. 

As a “symbolic species” our behavior is ultimately narrated by symbols that we have developed over time creating this material culture that has allowed us to interact with people within our smaller communities but also broader circles, cultures, etc. because of this shared and uniquely human symbolic behavior that we have been able to maintain through language (in all aspects of it) which allows us to memorize it, share it, change it, evolve it, etc. Language is what makes us different from other species, it places us in a “double world” (not just objects and symbols, but ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and other concepts we can’t even fathom) and strictly separates us from animals who live in a “one world” system where only objects and circumstance exist (Cole 1996, p. 120). However, it is easy to dichotomize humans and animals in terms of our use of symbols but what about human differentiation that is based on symbols? In his piece, Cole explains Wartofsky’s categorizations of artefacts into primary, secondary and tertiary. The primary ones constitute the production ‘aka’ raw materials, the secondary artefacts (which is where I would personally draw the line that differentiates Homo sapiens from other animals) “modes of action using the primary artefacts” and the third category (tertiary) that “color the way we see the ‘actual’ world”. My final anthropologically focused thoughts to this were: isn’t the “actual” world a relative concept? Could we define this category as a particularistic individual cultural representation/characterisation? Since we as humans are “symbolic species” where do we draw the line between universal phenomenons and shared behavior because of our symbolic nature and those (symbols/artefacts) that are unique to a specific cultural, group, community, etc.? 



Kate Wong, “The Morning of the Modern Mind: Symbolic Culture.” Scientific American 292, no. 6 (June 2005): 86-95.

Michael Cole, “On Cultural Artifacts,” From Cultural Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Short excerpts.

Prof. Irvine, “Symbolic Cognition and Cognitive Technologies” (Video, from Key Concepts in Technology)

Savage-Rumbaugh, Sue, et al. “Ape Consciousness–Human Consciousness: A Perspective Informed by Language and Culture.” American Zoologist, vol. 40, no. 6, 2000, pp. 910–921.

Thinking in Symbols Video Documentary, American Museum of Natural History, 2012 

Computing, symbols and questions


Danae Theocharaki 

Point (4) “How can we get one category of symbols (binary
representations) to “mean” all our other kinds of symbolic
representations (languages, text characters, emojis and graphical
symbols, images, numbers and mathematical operations, sounds
and music, etc.)?” made me think of the overall ideas around symbology. 

How are symbols culturally unique? Does everyone see/recognise symbols in the same way? Cultures have and still use symbols that are often time unique to them. So who decides how, when and why to create these “electronic” symbols specifically those shared by a large number of the human population i.e. emojis also referred to as “universal validity” by Dr. Irvine? 

I was really intrigued by the idea of “ownership”, especially in terms of computing. As Dr. Irvine mentions in his introductory piece: “why we all “own” the principles of computing
as a consequence of being human.” 

Great Principles of Computing

Computing as a science field VS technology field 

Domains: AI, cyber security, cloud computing, big data, graphics, computational science 

“Each window sees the inside space in a distinctive way; but the same thing can be seen
in more than one window.” p. xvi

Interesting to read about computational metaphors. Not only does technology change a long with new human discoveries, needs, development, etc. but so do humans because of technology. 

Principles of Computing: communication, computation, coordination, recollection, evaluation, design 

I really liked the representation of figure 1.10 as it also (for me at least) created a familiarity with the quote noted above from the preface. I’m curious to explore these concepts more and have a better understanding of them in terms of their role, benefit and action in computing but also in how we explore it. 

“The second difference is that the structures of computing are not just
descriptive, they are generative. An algorithm is not just a description of a
method for solving a problem, it causes a machine to solve the problem.” p. 15

“A First Look at Recent Definitions and Conceptions of Computing.”

symbol – action – symbol processing 



We chose what symbols to use as they define what they mean to us, why and how they are important to us 

“We do not interact with computers by reading programs; we
interact with programs running on computers.” p. 3, this goes back to this concept expressed both in “Introduction to the Course” and in Great Principles of Computing, that the actual computer, the “machine”, is a means to an end and not the actual end.