Despite my negativism, Google Translate offers a service many people value highly: It effects quick-and-dirty conversions of meaningful passages written in language A into not necessarily meaningful strings of words in language B. As long as the text in language B is somewhat comprehensible, many people feel perfectly satisfied with the end product. If they can “get the basic idea” of a passage in a language they don’t know, they’re happy. This isn’t what I personally think the word “translation” means, but to some people it’s a great service, and to them it qualifies as translation. Well, I can see what they want, and I understand that they’re happy. Lucky them!
Douglass Hofstadter, as quoted above, gets the gist of my use of Google Translate though it is clearly not the thesis of the piece. My value in Google Translate lies in its very shallowness: give me the key points quickly so I can best judge how to proceed. It works much better for me and is more respectful of my friends’ & colleagues’ time if I can pose salient specific questions instead of shoving an email in their face asking “What does this say?”, only to discover that it is yet another Nigerian Prince.