From the Editor

From the Editor

The Beaten Path

A Washington, D.C., radio station has adopted the hashtag #metropocalypse to chronicle the woes of the capital’s financially strapped subway system. Plagued by smoke and fire defects, service disruptions, and shrinking ridership, the Metro currently operates on a pared-down schedule so problems resulting from years of deferred maintenance can be found and fixed. Its plight is not unique. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave transit systems across the United States a D grade in 2013 and said that aging, obsolete fleets and facilities were costing the economy tens of billions of dollars a year. An upgrade, however, need not mean merely improving existing networks, as Peter Meredith’s cover story, “Moving Parts,” makes clear. From the spread of light rail and streetcar systems to dedicated rapid bus lanes, bike-sharing, and even cable cars, not to mention private services like Uber and Lyft, cities are trying a variety of ways to move their growing populations. With elected officials talking seriously once again about major infrastructure spending, they don’t have to stick with more of the same.

The 2020 Olympic Games will bring a flood of tourists into a country— Japan—with one of the world’s most difficult languages. But there’s an app for that, or soon will be. The Japanese government is intent on advancing the state of machine translation by developing consumer-friendly tools, including apps that will facilitate text and spoken communication between Japanese and dozens of other languages. The task is tricky, as Lucy Craft reports in our feature “Lip Service.” In Japanese, verbs are situated at the end of the sentence. And Japanese is a highly “context dependent” language: Sentences often omit the subject, instead taking cues from earlier sentences. Still, as an official of the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology tells Craft, “Translation is kind of an ideal application for computers.”

We hope you enjoy the December Prism. Best wishes for the holiday season.


Mark Matthews