Machines Take Over Translation

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Professional translators and linguists mocked Google Translate for many years but the fun may be over. The rapid pace of improvement of machine translation technology and the quality of the translations made us to ask the obvious: How long before Machines take over the translation industry?

Machines in translation

You may have heard of Word Lens. Not yet? Well, maybe it is time to take a look at it.

Google purchased the software company which was responsible for developing Word Lens. Their software recognizes text through a mobile phone camera and translates it simultaneously. We have to admit the technology is rather impressive. This software covers 27 languages. The most astonishing thing is that the app requires no internet connection!

Equally impressive is Google Translate’s conversation function. This function supports 32 languages, and many fear this could be a threat to human interpreters. Have a look at it and see for yourself.

If we look at the statistics, they show that in January of this year Google Translate was being used by over 500 million people each month, carrying out around one billion translations each day. Many translation professionals might feel threatened for their livelihoods and threatened by these advances in machine translation technology. Should they really be?

What is the advantage of machine translation?

Some of the reasons why Microsoft developed a machine translation app known as Document Translator are to speed up tasks and to save costs. This technology enables the company to boost multi-language productivity for internal communications. Whilst this is incredibly useful, it’s important to note that neither Microsoft nor any other leading companies are suggesting that such technology can be used to produce client communications, websites, advertising or marketing messages, technical documentation or legal documents, as the technology is not suitable for this purpose.

What about deficiencies?

Machine translation is often a convenient solution for translating individual words or phrases, but what about a translation of complex sentences, idioms and colloquialisms? That’s where the difficulties begin.

Because of a progressive globalization process, there is an increasing content waiting to be translated according to the cultural and linguistic background of the target audience.  And this can be done only by human translators. Subject knowledge relevant to the translation tasks goes in their favour as well, which enables them to make a full research around certain terms or topics, so they can provide a quality translation which means they use the right terminology in the target language.

Man meets the machine

We presume that over the coming years there will be an increase of translations carried out by machine translation technologies. What is left is post-editing, which is a crucial role and can only be provided by a qualified human translator.

During the course of time many industries introduced various machine tools, but not to replace manual labour or to snub human workforce. It was rather introduced to assist them to be more productive and faster while performing their tasks.

So, dear linguists, you do not need to worry about your future.  Your skills are very much in demand and you can just relax and look forward to some exciting technology developments being established in your profession. But if you’re a tourist heading out to explore a foreign city, we’d highly recommend downloading Google’s translation app before you depart.

Dino Halugić
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Dino shares his views on translation and project management with the Text United blog.

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