The text for the 2020 contest was published in Chuo Koron, a literary and general interest magazine. It is well written as well as thought provoking and, sadly, as pertinent today as it was when first published. Perhaps its relevance is among the reasons why the contestants’ submissions were of unusually high quality this year. Most of them seem to have tackled understanding “biopower” and the challenges presented by the terms 生権力 and 生かす in that section thoughtfully. The author has made the biopower discussion more pointed by mentioning “妊娠をやめろ” for women at risk. 妊娠をやめる is a phrase used by clinics performing abortions; preventing pregnancy is more commonly 妊娠を防ぐ or 避妊, but there seems to be some ambiguity here. Bearing in mind the severity of the risks he has pointed out, I find that his conclusion requires careful thought: is the author saying that we have already inadvertently given up on the human rights vs. herd control question or that, having set aside that issue in this emergency, we are at risk of doing so?
Kevin Yuan (E57)
This translator thoughtfully tackled all three of the Fred Uleman tasks--“read a little, think a little, write a little.” In the first paragraph, however, “the short month” for わずか一ヶ月 is a bit off: “In a mere month,” “in just a month”--there are many solutions that avoid implying that the month was short rather than it passed quickly. At the end of that paragraph, “all countries have adopted” both deviates from the Japanese 取り組んでいる and is contradicted by the next paragraph. Maybe “almost every country is grappling with” or “addressing”?
In the next paragraph, adding “digital” to “contact tracing” is a helpful clarification. The use of “log,” with its explanation, is good. At the end of the paragraph, however, Kevin has Google and Apple integrating “the technology into their devices,” which might imply a firmware or hardware update instead of integrating it into their devices’ operating systems.
A similar problem occurs in the next paragraph, with “Apple and Google have over five billion smartphones.” The Japanese 両社のスマホ should be understood not as “the smartphones they have (i.e., own or have provided)” but “smartphones running their operating systems.” (That’s doubly important because lots of smartphones not made or sold by Google run on its Android OS.) The translator’s use of “pushback” for 批判 works well. That paragraph ends a bit off course: the Japanese observes that, with fears of infection rapidly halting the debate over freedom and privacy, that difference between the West and China is now seen as of little significance, not that it has vanished.
The biopower paragraphs are tricky. Translating 群れの管理 as “population management” introduces confusion, since “population management” commonly means controlling population size, not managing human groups. “Herd management” works better, especially since it alludes to the “underpinnings in livestock management” in the previous sentence and also evokes the now-familiar term “herd immunity.” “From the lens of human rights” also bothers me, because the Japanese 人権問題として doesn’t provide the wiggle room that “from the lens of” does.
In the next paragraph, the translator has added “falsely” to 読み替える; the result is probably close to the writer’s view, but he has only said “reinterpret,” without explicitly stating that the reinterpretation is in error, giving the reader more space in which to consider the question.
In the final paragraph, 欧米と中国の差異が無効になったいま is a challenge. The essay begins with asserting a contrast between “the Western model of valuing human rights and freedoms, or the China model of prioritizing surveillance.” That implies that the difference does exist. Keven, however, has interpreted 無効 as “negligible.” Earlier, the author stated that the difference does exist but debate over it has been set aside. I would suggest that the いま in the phrase above is significant: now, when that difference has been [temporarily] overridden [by efforts to battle the pandemic], it would be prudent to take a step back and reassess the purposes of information technology. (Or perhaps I am being overly optimistic.)
Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd (E07)
Hannah Dahlberg-Dodd produced a readable and largely accurate version. Unfortunately, the translation begins with “interview” for 対話, which is a dialogue or discussion, rather than one person being questioned by another. Then using “preference” for 重視 in the Western instance leads her to adopt “emphasis” for the Chinese instance; why not “priority” for both? Also in the first paragraph, we see the first of many instances of “smart phone” instead of “smartphone,” the much more widely used term.
That paragraph ends with “fight” in quotation marks, paralleling the Japanese. That is odd in English: are those scare quotes implying that we are not trying to fight the pandemic? Please remember to translate the punctuation, too!
In the next paragraph, “which now seems so distant” for 去る is a bit over the top. “This past April 10” or just “April 10” would be sufficient. Hannah got the operating system part right at the end of the sentence, but the new feature would be “incorporated in” rather than working “in conjunction with” the operating systems.
“Chorus of criticism” in the next paragraph is a good solution, and “debates abated” perhaps implies not that differences are gone but have been set aside. “Any differences” seems overly broad here, however; the author is specifically addressing liberty/monitoring.
In the next paragraph, the idea of the situation’s being urgent seems somewhat weak. 危機感 is more “sense of danger, of impending crisis.” Hannah navigates the herd/individual question skillfully, but ends with a weak “This is one of the difficulties of this concept.” What “this is” refers to is unclear. (My grammar police self says never start a sentence with “This is.”)
Hannah’s final paragraphs are excellent, except for the last sentence. “With the neutralization of differences between China and the West, should we not take the time to reflect on the current direction of our technological advancement?” The thrust of the いまhas been weakened; “Now, while those differences between China and the West are neutralized . . .”
Finalists (by numbers assigned to them)
Jennifer Smith (E08)
Jennifer Smith produced clumsier English with more plain translation errors. The starting sentence is overly wordy and uses “themed around” as an awkward alternative to “on.” “Every country” is a stretch, and Jennifer sadly mirrors the Japanese in adding quotation marks to “fight.”
In the next paragraph, “The proximity between smartphones is being continuously recorded” differs seriously from サマホン同士の接近を常時記録し: The Japanese is about recording encounters/being in proximity, not their degree of closeness at all times. In the next sentence, “beforehand” is clumsy and could simply be dropped. In the next sentence, the Japanese does not say that Google and Apple are co-developing the app Japan is testing; those are separate efforts.
“Third parties” should not be hyphenated, in the next paragraph. “There are more than 5 billion smartphones between these two companies, and if this plan . . .” would be aided by turning the beginning into a dependent clause and clarifying what “are” means here: “Since over 5 billion smartphones use those companies’ operating systems, this plan, if implemented . . .” The next sentence’s “This likely would” is regrettably vague.
“Take the backseat” is a good solution in the last sentence, but “as differences between the West and China fade” skips over 意味. It’s not the differences but their perceived significance that is fading.
覚えている, in the next paragraph, is simply “I feel,” not “I recall.” 「生かす」in the next sentence is a challenge, but not one that can be solved by “allowing people to live.” Here the Japanese punctuation suggests a need for thought, which resulted in Kevin Yuan’s “regulating human life using statistical and biological standards.” Jennifer’s “new normal” at the end of the paragraph is ingenious. The next paragraph’s description of herd management also works well.
In the next paragraph, “modern” is an odd choice for 新しい: the author is talking specifically about novel surveillance methods, not the broader “modern” ones. The rest of the paragraph is muddled: particularly, “masks the risk” instead of “contains the risk” for 危険を秘めている。The last sentence is also twisted, partly because あらゆる has been skipped and 無効 rendered as “faded.”
Keyon Talieh (E25)
Keyon Talieh introduces “civil liberties” instead of “human rights” in the first sentence; the difference is significant. Keyon also interprets the や connecting 位置情報 and ビッグデータ as a variant of など. The last sentence of the next paragraph is puzzling: what are these “them,” since the previous sentences talk about only one direction for software development?
In the next paragraph, “The two companies are said to account for five billion of the world’s smartphones” is by far the best solution any of these translators came up with. Then E25 stumbles with “In the face of the fear caused by infectious disease,” which seems a very standard sort of fear, not the panic caused a pandemic. Simply “With infection fears swelling” (Kevin Yuan) would be more succinct while referring to this specific situation.
In the next paragraph, “desensitization” is excellent for 感覚の麻痺. Unfortunately, moving on to biopower, 管理 is not necessarily “maintenance,” and “reached full-scale” needs to lose its hyphen (and be rethought). The final paragraph’s “large stain on our record,” however, works well.
Alyssa Fusek (E41)
Alyssa Fusek’s translation has a disappointing number of unsubtle translation errors and clumsy or ungrammatical English passages. It begins with 対話 mistranslated as “lecture,” goes on to put “wage war” in quotation marks, and mistranslates 取り組んでいる as “coming together.” After that weak beginning, the second paragraph is not bad. The next paragraph gets the Apple/Google smartphone base wrong: “Both companies are reputed to have sold more than five billion” would imply a total of ten billion, plus most of the phones running Google’s OS were not sold by it. “The debate on freedom and privacy has quickly taken a back seat” is, however, a good solution.
In the paragraph introducing biopower, “maximize the potential” is a satisfying interpretation of 生かす. “Witnessing the full extent of biopower” seems a bit exaggerated, however; the author is claiming that biopower’s use is widespread (“the new normal”), not we have seen all biopower can do.
In the next paragraph, the translator uses “population control” for “herd control.” That is followed, a paragraph below, by an obvious grammatical error (two subjects, a singular verb) in the first sentence and 他方 misread as “rural area.”
Linda Liu (E42)
Linda Liu has made some good choices. I would note that the first paragraph does have “battle” in quotes, and expands どの国 into “all countries, regardless of region, have adopted smartphone location tracking,” although, as the next paragraph makes clear, that process had not been completed. “Arsenal” is a great addition (but should be plural).
In the next paragraph, “smartphone logging” is good but should be adopted after explaining what it means, as the Japanese does and as Kevin Yuan did (“digital contact tracing, which constantly logs encounters between smartphones”). For 実証実験, “app prototype” seems far removed from implementation. Why not simply “testing a similar app”?
“Upcoming versions of their OSs” is excellent. Unfortunately, this translator continues the muddling of selling phones and providing OSs for them.
Moving on to biopower, we read that “it is the power over life.” That literal interpretation fails to grasp what Foucault was writing about and does not connect with the use of statistical and biological standards. In the last sentence of that paragraph, it is not biopower but the universal fight against the coronavirus that has changed the world.
Two paragraphs down, the translator is again going astray with biopower. It is hard to imagine that anyone fighting the pandemic does not share “the underlying philosophy that individuals themselves should take measures to protect against infection.” The issue here, however, is the use of biopower, of herd management, to manage individuals.
Despite other issues in clumsy English or misinterpreted Japanese, this translator’s final sentence very nearly hits the mark: “Isn’t this the moment, in which the differences between the West and China have become insignificant, precisely the right moment to examine the state of digital [information] technology with an objective eye?”