This idea is a gift.
The Worldwide Lexicon is an open source project. Some of you know what this means, but if you do not work in the computer industry, here is a quick explanation.
Open source software is free software, not free as in “costs nothing”, but free as in “no limits”. You can use what we are building here. Copy it. Copy the source code. Build a commercial service upon it. Do whatever you want. It is a gift.
I have spent most of my life thinking about communication, whether I was working on this project, designing telecommunications systems or doing scientific research. A common theme in my work is to build tools that enable people to talk to each other, in voice, print and other media. The Internet is a truly amazing thing, and with it, distance does not matter, yet language still does.
The Worldwide Lexicon project has a long history now, and dates back to some early writing and work I did in 1998. The idea has evolved with the Internet, and as I explored different ways of using technology to enable people who speak different languages to communicate.
I am very lucky. I was born not long after the first Moon Landing. I have traveled almost 1,000,000 miles, visited some 35 countries, and lived in three. My daily life is something like a science fiction story. On a typical day I talk and correspond with people on several continents, and routinely travel halfway around the world in a day. When I was in college, I worked on a project to wire an entire town in Virginia with Internet access. It seems quaint today, every town is wired, but then it was a new thing. That was in 1991, not so long ago really.
The ability to communicate is what sets people apart from other animals. It is a special thing, and if people from different tribes could communicate, we’d appreciate that we’re all the same in important ways. I am fortunate to have seen so much of the world while I am young. When you are young, you’re not afraid of traveling or meeting people who are strangely different. I wish more people had the opportunities I had.
Now that much of the world is a local phone call, as Sir Arthur C Clarke predicted it would become in 2001, the only barrier that separates people and countries is language. It is the last frontier. The Worldwide Lexicon project’s goal is to eliminate that barrier, partly with technology, but mostly by organizing people to break it down. Language, like music or poetry was not meant for machines. It demands people to comprehend it and explain it.
My work is a gift because I want people to use it and build upon it. I want people to contribute their time and knowledge to this project, whether by translating for others, or by building software. I could build a business around this, but then this would become a world of have’s and have not’s. I will be asking millions of people to contribute to this project, most of them by translating other peoples’ writing.
They will not be paid, so neither should I. The reward will be knowing that because of this work and works derived from it ordinary people will be able to see things and ideas that were hidden from their view before.
Worldwide Lexicon Project