Machines take over

Thousands of linguists around the world are intent on perfecting the ultimate machine translation system. Research into technology and new methods of improving the translation process through the use of new technology are becoming ever popular. This is good news for translators and interpreters. If researchers are able to provide sets of tools that might help us then this can only be a good thing. We have seen an quantum leap in the number of tools that have become available to us since the Second World War – specialised dictionaries, electronic dictionaries, translation memory systems (such as Systran and Trados), corpora and of course we cannot fail to mention the internet. The information that is at the disposal of translators is phenomenal. And this information is all readily accessible, it is – quite literally – only the click of a mouse away.

However, could all this technology be a negative development for translators and the translation process? Obviously, any research that brings something new and innovative to a field cannot be regarded as negative. At the same time, ignorance is bliss. For those translators who loathe technology (and there seems to be a large number), avoiding using these new tools allows them to not have to change the habits that they have grown into. There are, in all probability, more competent translators who use no ‘technological’ tools than translators who do. However, ignorance is not an excuse. If we can make use of online glossaries, translation memories and corpora… why don’t we? Good translators are those who have both years of hands-on experience and, of course, the necessary know-how. How can we hope to move forward as a community of professionals if we do not embrace the tools fellow professionals are developing?

There is a fear that in the future machine translation may take over and relieve us of our work. However, the idea that the machine will push us out the workplace in the same way that robots have relieved blue-collar workers of their jobs in the car industry is probably a little exaggerated. Whatever the future holds, there will always be a need to communicate whether it is with the help of technology, through technology or by the verification of technological systems. Translators have little to worry about… for now.


16 thoughts on “Machines take over

  1. I’m really glad that there are more and more new methods improving the translation process. And I’m sure that the vast majority (if not all) translators and future translators feel the same. However, I’m also aware of the fact that for some of the translators who are, I would say, behind the times (I mean, for those who got used to particular traditional methods of translation) these new methods of translation are just unimportant and uninteresting novelties. But I think it is crucial for every translator to keep up with the times and to have an open mind. Finally, I don’t think that the future machine translation will take over and relieve us of our work (at least not in the forseeable future). This is because we, as human beings, have feelings which are indispensable in the process of translation and which can’t be replaced by any machine. Human beings are still the most powerful and complex creatures in the world.

  2. “Human beings are still the most powerful and complex creatures in the world”
    One should always be wary of statements like this. Yes, human beings are most definitely wondrous creatures but we should also have a counterweight to this kind of statement i.e. we still have SO MUCH to learn. As for machine translation not taking over – it is surprising the number of translations that are initially undertaken by computer and then proofed by humans, so-called HACT (or Human-Aided Computer Translation). We should also remember that a large number of professional translation is moving towards a state of CAHT (or Computer-Aided Human Translation). Either way, the machines are here to stay.

  3. My brother who is an engineer told me a story once, which is related to what has been already said about the fear against new technologies. Surprisingly, this fear found home at technical university. In a nut shell, poor old-school professors demanded students to draw their projects with hellishly difficult to use rapitographs, insdead of teach future ship builders to use graphic computer programmes. Naturally, one may say that drawing is part of a shipbuilder profession, howerver why not to use software that faciliates and speeds up the whole process. This he had to acqiure himself.
    Another exaplme comes from Warsaw University where my coleagues – future translators have never been given a chance to work in a booth, which in fact is a machine a future translator has to get familiar with. Another issue is already mentioned Trados, which is a blessing for a tranlator but… In fact nobody teaches us how to use it. Those who know the market price of Trados know that it’s more expensive than a good dictionary and therefore not many can afford it. In fact, a begining translator cannot.
    Technology is indeed fantastic when we know how to use it. Definitely, it should be taught at schools. It is just some people are thoroughly affraid of novelties.
    Translating is not an automatic process. As we all know, many substantial decisions must be made before the final version of a text comes out. Machines lack the ability of crative and abstract thinking. Thus, we – translators will not extinct soon.

  4. I’m fully aware of what I’ve said in my previous comment:) I know about HACT and CATH, but still I think that human beings are irreplaceable (at least for now and in the immediate future). As for HACT…here a human being is the most important part, and as for CATH… I think that it won’t be very popular before I retire or…die:)

  5. The comments regarding translators (Ania) are most definitely true. Translator trainees often do not have access to the simplest of tools to further their career. Trados, one assumes, is an exception due to its commercial nature (and also the fact that it is highly expensive). It seems that most commentators (Ania and Magdalena) believe that there is a great deal of time left for translators. We will see, is all that can be said…

  6. Despite the recent growth of systems for personal computers and of Internet services, it is still true to say that there is nothing yet really suitable for the independent professional translator, i.e. for those not working for large companies or in translation organizations. It is known that some translators have tried to apply commercial PC-based software to their needs, but the amount of adaptation required and the generally poor output has made them unsatisfactory and uneconomic. More suitable for the independent translator would be a cost-effective translation workstation. However, current workstations on the market are still too expensive for the individual translator. Although there is promise of low-cost computer tools for this potentially large market – e.g. terminology and concordancing software, and perhaps alignment software – there is no doubt that this segment is not being covered as well as many other areas.

  7. Yes, this is true. Independent professional translators are often fighting a losing battle against those who work for large companies. However, this is probably true to of most professions. The life of a freelancer can be a lot more difficult for many reasons, although by the same token it can also be more rewarding and often the independent translator is able to provide a higher quality product than the ‘conveyor belt’ methods of the larger agencies.

  8. in my opinion translators are needed and none technological novelty won’t replace translators. these new tools help translating into various languages and improving translators tasks. in fact I cannot imagine a good professional with lack of knwoledge of new tools that help doing own job. I think that especially this profession demands from transaltors constant being up to date of what is new and what the changes are in the world, so the one who throws away acknowledging and profitting from new thinks shouldn;t do this job.

  9. Technological innovation certainly won’t replace translators at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the future. However, the problem seems to be that translators do not like using tools much of the time. It’s a profession very much ingrained in its ways.

  10. I’ve just read the article taht proves that translators could be replaced by the machine. CDRinfo announced that the comapny N EC has just invented the chip with the translation programme that can be implemented to the cell phones and traanslate from english to japanses and other way round. It proves that technology is developping quickly.

  11. Worrying will in no way help, or will it change anything. NEC developed this system some time ago. In effect it is a speech recognition system that has been grafted on to a simple machine translating system. As far as can be understood, the system first of all needs to be trained to understand the user’s voice otherwise it fails spectacularly, next the words are transferred to a simple translation system that converts them into the target and a speech synthesiser then verbalises this translation. The system is crude but quite effective, although prone to mistakes (often due to idioms idiosyncratic speech and the suchlike). The system also makes use of corpora to look at frequency statistics in order to minimise error.

  12. The system is ridiculously simple. Ockham’s Razor is so true here:
    “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”, that is “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one”.
    This is so often the case with the best technologies.

  13. ‘Good translators are those who have both years of hands-on experience and, of course, the necessary know-how’ I strongly believe that there is the need to use technology in translating. However, I think that technology should play only a supporting role in the process of translation since, at least for the time being, it cannot replace man.

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