Machine translation: Babel or babble?

EVER since God confounded the people of Babel, we have been left with imperfect solutions to communicating across borders. One of those has been the lingua franca, a commonly known second language in which different nationalities converse. That trick sufficed for millennia, but it could be reaching the end of its lifespan, according to Nicholas Ostler, author of "The Last Lingua Franca" (which The Economist reviewed in 2010). Machine translation software may become so advanced as to render second-language learning useless.

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