Human vs. Machine Translation, the Wrong Narrative

Published on Nov 15, 2019

by Marcos Dinnerstein

Summary: In the future, there will be a place for both automated translation options and human translations.

What will the translation industry like in 5 years? In 20 years? Typically, the narrative is framed as a question of either:

1) Will machine translation evolve to be good enough to replace humans and thus kill the human translation industry? or

2) When will machines replace humans in the translation industry?

This is zero-sum thinking. That is, it assumes that there is a finite amount of translation work to be had and that the efficiencies of Neural Machine Translation (see, A Gentle Introduction to Machine Translations)  and AI will consume all the available work leaving an obsolete class of workers to find other kinds of work.

But another way of looking at developments in the translation industry was recently proposed by Kevin Quirk, president of the International Federation of Translators. On Saturday, November 9, he spoke at the Translators Association of China (TAC) and put forward the argument that machine translation would, “…open up the world to new cultures” This, in turn, would generate more work for human translators by enlarging the translation market. That’s a very different picture from the conventional wisdom on the future of the translation market.

It makes sense that as more businesses view the world as their market, there will be a growing need for those businesses to use translators. 

From the outset, CEOs and product managers will plan on rolling out their products and services to international markets. Each will need to be localized to speak to that particular market in language and visual content that looks sounds, and feels native to them.  How many people in the United States think of Spotify as a Swedish company? Not many would be my guess. And that speaks to how effectively Spotify has localized in the US market.

Kevin Quirk found an ally for this position in Wang Gangyi, executive president and secretary-general of the TAC. Gangyi believes translators will need to adapt to the advances in translation technology but not be, ‘... enslaved by technology.’ There will continue to be a place for automated translation as well as a quality translation done by humans. TAC is a strong advocate for the use of Translation Memory (TM) to assist human translation work. With sentences and phrases stored in memory, translators won’t have to translate material more than once and those savings in time and costs can be passed along to the client.

Read about TAC's position: Why We Invested in CAT: An Examination of the Business Benefits of Using CAT Tools For LSPs

Just as many people consider their phone an extension of their brain and body, translators won’t think twice about using technology to make their translations more accurate, faster and more affordable to provide.

The Translators Association of China (TAC), founded in 1982 is China’s only national association advocating for the translation and interpreting community. Their members are comprised of individuals, associations, institutions, and corporate members. They maintain quality standards for their members and foster understanding across the industry’s stakeholders.

Google has given us a glimpse of the future of machine translation with this delightful video:

Read more on machine translation from MotaWord:

Machine Translation Ready To Take Over The Worlds? Not Yet, Pinky!

High-Quality, Accurate Translations - Humans or Machines?


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