Communication is key in the modern world, which becomes increasingly globalized year after year. Companies, businesses, government organizations, and individual people communicate with each other on a daily basis – the number of personal and professional interactions is on the increase, as well. Still, it’s obvious that a singular global language doesn’t exist. English and Chinese may be the most widely used languages out there, but the need to be understood doesn’t always involve the need to learn a non-native language. As such, translation and interpreting services have always been in demand.
If you think about it, these solutions are extremely effective in their simplicity. People need to communicate with each other, companies want to reach a wider audience, governments want to cooperate, and so on – that’s where translators and interpreters take the stage. However, as much as communication lies in human nature, so does the need for progress and improvements. For these reasons, Artificial Intelligence and machine translation solutions have been invented. These technological advancements have become a part of the translation industry, with AI being implemented in other sectors, such as healthcare, education, travel, banking, entertainment, gaming, food tech, e-commerce, retail, real estate, and many more.
Because Artificial Intelligence and machine translation services have become increasingly popular over the years, and developers are working tirelessly to improve them, people started to wonder how likely it is for AI to replace human translators at some point in the near future. If you want to find out whether machines will take over human jobs in the translation and interpreting sector, keep on reading!
Translation and Interpreting
Before we dive into our analysis and prognosis for the future of the translation industry, let’s explain the difference between translation and interpreting. These linguistic disciplines are closely related, but they deal with different aspects of human language, which is why they’re rarely performed by the same people. Simply put, a translator deals with written texts, translating original documents to their assigned target language. An interpreter, on the other hand, deals with speeches, performed live or recorded, be it in real-time, simultaneously with the speaker (simultaneous interpreting) or right after they finish talking (consecutive interpreting).
As you can see, these two types of services are quite different, yet they have the same goal. Professional translators and interpreters work tirelessly to help people understand each other, be it via speeches, audio-visual means, or texts. Both services require a fair deal of language processing skills, as well as extra-linguistic skills to ensure optimal accuracy. Obviously, translation and interpreting experts are able to provide their clients with high-quality services. However, speed and efficiency are in high demand and that’s where the human factor can actually act as a disadvantage. As such, the global market finds machine translations and AI-based technologies as possible solutions that can possibly, at some point in the future, replace humans and take over the translation industry.
Advantages of Machine Translation
Both translation and interpreting services involving human translators and interpreters are complex processes that require time and effort to be delivered as swiftly and accurately as possible. It’s no surprise that the modern world calls for more “efficient” solutions, especially when there’s such an emphasis on speed and quality achieved at the lowest cost possible. That’s why machine translation, aided by AI technology, has become increasingly popular, raising the question of whether it will make human services obsolete in the future. What are the advantages of machine translation, and what makes it so appealing? Let’s find out below:
- Quick turnaround time, which equals higher profits
- No need to rely on human translators (although some can be employed for their post-editing services)
- Free machine translation tools available online (such as Google Translate, Deepl, or online dictionaries)
- Machine translation software and AI solutions are adaptable, programmable, and developer-friendly
- For huge translation assignments and large volumes of translations, it’s a cost-effective solution
- Sometimes one tool is enough to translate between multiple languages.
Without a doubt, all of these advantages sound extremely promising – that’s why people invest in the development of machine translation tools and AI technology. However, it’s not all fun and games, and these solutions face some issues that are impossible to underestimate. These include:
- The fact that machine translations are not always accurate. AI software is prone to malfunctions, and the solutions available for people now are not foolproof. Complex vocabulary and industry-specific terms can also be problematic to machine translation software.
- Machine translation and artificial intelligence software can be taught and programmed to translate words, phrases, and language patterns. However, it can’t understand humor, sarcasm, human emotions, and various extra-linguistic nuances that can change the meaning of a text or speech.
- Inaccurate or awkward translations. Since AI and machine translation algorithms fail to recognize culturally specific words, phrases, slang, and other linguistic nuances, the output is, at times, far from the original sense, and the translated content can be awkward or even offensive. This, in turn, can have far-reaching, negative consequences, especially when it comes to well-known brands. If they replace human translators with machine translation software and its product is far from perfect, clearly showing the lack of cultural awareness and cohesiveness, they run the risk of brand damage.
- Differences between interpreting and translation services. Even though machine translation technology is not perfect, it handles static texts quite well, including large volumes of texts that would take hours for human translators to render. However, developing AI technology for simultaneous interpretation of live speeches is more complicated. Even now, simultaneous interpreting requires people to have extensive training and gain professional experience. However, professional interpreters handle each situation and event with a great deal of success, and designing an effective technology for simultaneous interpreting still seems like a thing from the future.
New Technologies In Translation and Interpreting
Artificial Intelligence is no longer a concept encountered only in science-fiction books. People come into contact with AI technology on a daily basis, even though they may not be aware of it. But how exactly can AI solutions be implemented to improve translation technology? There are several instances where new technologies are applied. These include:
- CAT tools. Also known as Computer-Assisted Translation tools, they facilitate the work of human translators who deal with digital texts. They include translation memory software, language search engine software, alignment software, terminology and project management software, interactive machine translation software, and other language-related programs, such as spell checkers, grammar checkers, online dictionaries, and terminology databases, to name just a few.
- Automatic speech recognition (ASR). It’s used to help with interpreting live speeches but it often fails to provide people with high-quality translation. ASR programs find it difficult to deal with spontaneous, continuous, and context-dependent speech but we can expect that in time, these too will improve.
- Machine translation software. You’re probably familiar with this one – it’s safe to assume that the majority of people have used online translating software such as Google Translate. It’s fast, it’s free, and seems to do the job just fine, but only in the case of easy texts. You can use it from time to time, but it’s still better to hire a translator to do this job for you, especially when too much is at stake.
- Neural machine translation (NMT). This one is more advanced, as it involves all types of machine translation. NMTs use an artificial neural network to predict the likelihood of a sequence of words. Neural machine translation systems rely on huge sets of training material to maximize translation performance, but they’re also trained jointly, unlike conventional translation systems.
Virtual Translation Services
Another reason why machine translation is so popular is the fact that it’s effective and doesn’t require personal contact, unlike, for example, consecutive or simultaneous interpreting services in the pre-COVID era. This lack of face-to-face contact and personal interactions significantly speeds up the translation process while providing a cost-effective alternative to high-quality, but quite expensive human translation services.
However, the translation industry is adaptable, and translation professionals adjust their performance to the demands of the global market. They provide their clients with virtual translation services that don’t require personal contact and are still of impeccable quality. In fact, many translation agencies and freelance translators work remotely, and it’s not a new business strategy that has been implemented in recent years. These services may not be as quick as automated software for translations, but they utilize various technological advancements, such as CAT tools, to make their workflow more efficient.
Remote Translation and Interpreting
The idea behind remote translation and interpreting services is not new. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced many business sectors to switch to the remote mode, which facilitated the development of changes in the sector for translations and interpreting gigs. Even though some people believe that AI solutions, including voice recognition technology, give humans a run for their money, they still haven’t made them obsolete. That’s because many translators and interpreters managed to meet the needs of their clients in this new reality, and high-quality services with a human touch are still in demand.
Even though remote translations are more straightforward than remote interpreting, the latter could become a new standard without humans having to rely on AI-powered machines. There have been improvements in video-conferencing technology, and in times of need, a video call could be enough to convey the meaning accurately, in a way that doesn’t involve having a booth and managing the work of interpreters. They are still able to interpret accurately in real-time, taking full account of various voices and intonations. Some clients are likely to opt for the AI service. Still, within a year, remote translating and interpreting services have developed to such an extent that it looks like human jobs are very much secure.
Even though the future of translation and interpreting looks rather gloomy, it’s still not enough to predict with ultimate certainty that AI will take over. Experts agree that AI technology has improved over the years, and solutions such as deep learning and neural networks help achieve the effects we can observe today. Some also see it as a quick and cost-effective alternative to translations and interpreting assignments that translation professionals deal with on a daily basis, especially when considering the fact that such services are in high demand. As such, we can expect an increase in AI-based translating and interpreting jobs.
That being said, it appears that the human element is necessary for the translation industry. Languages are complex and nuanced, and there are factors like context, humor, or emotional output that need to be taken into consideration. There’s voice recognition, jokes, sarcasm, and other extra-linguistic aspects of translation and interpreting with which AI has yet to catch up, and it’s not even certain if it will ever achieve a human-like command of natural languages. Maybe in the future, careers in copywriting, editing, translation, and similar fields of work will be highly automated and will only employ the very best professionals out there. For now, though, in-person interpreting and translation services are still in high demand.