Ivan Guzman de Rojas, the genius of the translation

An intelligence and vision which fills us with pride, Iván Guzmán de Rojas belongs to The Hall of Bolivian Fame!!

Amancaya Finkel writes for Pagina Siete:

Iván Guzmán de Rojas, the genius of the translation

LANGUAGES in the 1980s, this engineer, physicist and mathematician created the multilingual translator computerized Atamiri based on the Aymara language. Even today there is no translator that compares.

“I have a great curiosity”. I read somewhere about a Bolivian crazy that has placed the Aymara to a computer to make translations, do you know? “I like to see how it works,” said the then Secretary general of the OAS, João Clemente Baena Soares, to the now defunct President Hernan Siles Zuazo, when asked what or who would like to know in Bolivia during his visit to the country in the 1980s.

The Bolivian host didn’t know about whom was the future visitor was speaking about, but thought that the math teacher that had instructed his daughters years ago could have met him and decided to inquire. Asked “You as you know math, don’t know a fool who is doing things in translation with the Aymara on computers?” asked the teacher.

“Ah yes, know him”, he answered and promised to “make contact”.

Great was the surprise when who appeared in the interview with Baena Soares and Siles Zuazo was none other than the teacher, Iván Guzmán de Rojas, who took the opportunity to show his multilingual translator Atamiri.

The Atamiri is a computerized translation system based on the Aymara that automatically translates complete sentences to other languages.

The engineer, physicist and mathematician Iván Guzmán de Rojas has had dedicated for several years to perform consulting work on issues related to computer science, but his passion for Science encouraged him to carry out his own investigations and projects privately.

He had discovered that the structure of the Aymara language has “interesting algorithmic” properties. This finding led him to devise the translator. “Aymara is a matrix and its syntax is defined in the array.” That struck me much and I produced a small prototype, a system that generates well armed phrases in Aymara, which is not easy because it is an agglutinative language and its syntax is different from Spanish. If you can produce an algorithm that generates well-formed language phrases, you have the basis to create a translator. And I embarked on the project of translation of the Atamiri. “In 1985 had a prototype that translated via syntactic structure of the Aymara, the Spanish and the German”, he recalled.

The Bolivian complex

“Non-sense!, what are you going to be able to do that in Bolivia!”, was told him whenever he spoke of his project. “Here they just ‘give you some attention’ when someone from outside gives you his blessing.” That is our inferiority complex. Only when an international organization or a personality gives his opinion, understanding or not about the subject, then it just counts, isn’t it? “, he says.”

Baena Soares became fascinated with the Atamiri. The Secretary general of the OAS had a Bolivian aide who accompanied him everywhere. “That is how my grandfather spoke!” exclaimed excited in the middle of the demonstration of Guzmán de Rojas. The Aymara structure employing the Atamiri comes from the ancient Aymara and the aide recalled the way in which his ancestor spoke the indigenous language.

Soares immediately invited the scientist to Washington to submit his creation. The invention was international news. At that time there was no similar system and even today there is nothing that matches it. The Bolivian was invited to Canada, where the Institute for Development and Research decided to sponsor one of his works, and just when he was still in Washington, a Panamanian Commission was present in the OAS.

It was the time of the transfer of the Panama channel in American hands to the local administration and needed to translate massively all the technical documentation of the Channel from English to Spanish.

“Why don’t you go to Bolivia?”, they raised him in the OAS to the Panamanian Commission; To Bolivia?, Panamanians were surprised. But the long journey was not necessary. The inventor of the Atamiri was still in Washington and the translator was installed in Panama. A contract was signed for two years and Guzmán de Rojas traveled to the Central American country with his wife Gladys, who helped him give training workshops that he should dictate there continuously. He was also invited to Peru, Colombia, Italy and Germany, where he met with former President Richard von Weizsäcker. [see photo above]

The new translator also attracted the attention of the media. The Bolivian mathematician was interviewed by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, by Computer World, and even the New York Times dedicated five columns.

And Silicon Valley?

“You will ask me why you’re not a millionaire and are here in La Paz and not in Silicon Valley or somewhere else,” says the scientist with irony and mentioned that at that time work was still done with Wang computers.

Wang Company had begun to invest in the Atamiri, but when the project started to grow the company went bankrupt and the project could not continue.

Enlargement of the lexical database, the number of languages as well as the adaptation to other computer operating system entailed one major industrial project, for which a strong investment was needed.

Guzmán de Rojas knocked many doors. The Atamiri beat Google in a contest for a project in Germany, which was also suspended by the economic crisis. Although the Google Translator does work, it does not have the qualities of the Atamiri.

“In Bolivia there is no, what is called, venture capital.” “People want to invest in projects that bring that little instant some monies and if possible with a high percentage to the capitalist”, says.

Guzmán de Rojas also implemented the Copuchawi, a system which could chat from one language to another. But since the service was too expensive, it was discontinued.

In addition, this inventor has the design of a smart computer based on trivalent logic, which also contains the Aymara, and which was created within the framework of the work of a research group in Moscow.

“If there is no one who wants to continue with this, it is going to lose” says.


Great motivation for all of you Bolivians out there!! Kudos and my deep respect to Ivan Guzman de Rojas!!

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

3 thoughts on “Ivan Guzman de Rojas, the genius of the translation

  1. Also a Bolivian Linguist, a professional translator / interpreter in 5 languages, specialist in medicine,international law, living away from my beloved country ,I just found out about this particular invention.
    I knew of his father, a famous painter,but mostly his mother that was friends with mine .
    Why this system is not well known? I belong to several international organizations for linguists, ATA, etc and never I heard it mention, please make available more information, how to download the system.

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