Given that Google is attempting to digitize all books, the blog Inside Google Books asks the question "Just how many books are out there?". 129,864,880 to be exact; at least at last count by Google's estimate.
This wag can't help but wonder if these books shouldn't all be translated? Small wonder that Google is interested in translation. (See "Computers: Will They Ever Learn?" in a separate posting on this website.)
By our reckoning, if the average book runs to 250 pages (at 350 words per page) and each page requires one hour of translation work (human translation that is), then the scope of this project would add up to, wait for it, about 32.5 billion hours.
Well, maybe not that many hours since some of them have been translated already, say the top 10%. So the translation project would be reduced to a, umm, more manageable 29.25 billion hours. That's equal to 3,656,250,000 days of work (assuming an 8 hour day).
So, if my math is right, 10,000 translators working in concert could complete the task in something like 365,625 days or about 100 years without taking any days off.
Let's not forget of course that this project would only cover one language pair, e.g. English-French. Tackling the world's fifteen most popular languages on the internet would up the ante by a multiple of 15 at least, assuming that the core language, i.e. source-text or target language were English). If the aim was to target the top 20 spoken languages on the planet, the multiplier would be 20. (See our language stats compilation by following the Other Recommended Link in this posting.)
We're not sure what the math would be if the object of the exercise were to perform multiple bi-directional translations; multiple language pairs that is, like Spanish-Chinese. Breaking it all down would be daunting to say the least. More on that later, perhaps...
Anyhow, this is all rough arithmetic. But it does point to the fact that the translation profession has its work cut out for it.