The future of translation – a nuanced perspective

People usually start and end the discourse on the potential effects of translation technology in a negative light. But should it really be that way? asks Ofer Tirosh, CEO of Tomedes Smart Human Translations.

Having rendered professional translation services for more than 12 years, I’ve seen my fair share of the rapid evolution of translation technology in such a short time span. Here’s an article that I thought you might enjoy that gives an interesting take on what will professional translation look like in 2050, writes Ofer Tirosh, pictured, CEO Tomedes Smart Human Translations.

After all, the key to growing and succeeding in any business, no matter how small or big, is to adapt to disruptions and adopt the latest trends. Of course, this depends on your business, but running a leading translation agency means I can’t ignore the latest developments in the language service industry. Through this post, you’ll get to know my personal insights in the translation industry and my take on the future of translation. Translators and interpreters would also.

Translation technologies are evolving faster than anticipated

Translation technology has indeed come a long way since the pivotal Georgetown–IBM experiment. The gap between landmark developments in language translation technology is closing tighter and tighter than ever. With the advent of machine translation, Google Translate being the most widely used, many were eager to adopt it. They understood its imperfections but made the best of it—some a little more liberally to say the least.

But it wasn’t long until more sophisticated versions of machine translation emerged, namely neural machine translation (NMT). Plain machine translation relies on stored phrases and algorithms to decode the source text and to answer it with preset replies. But neural machine translation is a self-learning machine. Its developers tried in the best way they can mimic the human brain, learn new information, refine imperfections, and steadily improve its outputs.

But it’s usually these situations that prompt the doomsday discussions of machine translation slowly but surely replacing human translators. Will they? Many experts say no. And I concur. We humans are naturally inefficient when we speak. When we’re writing, we aim for grammatical precision but when we speak, we tend to use speech fillers like umms and ehhs. Heck, some of us, even myself tend to forget some key grammar rules. But it is precisely that is what makes speech appear natural.

Machines are only as perfect as the humans make them and mistakes are bound to happen. In the end, human translators cannot be completely taken over by machines. Furthermore, machines still sound like…machines. The actual human element that exists in language such as humor, slang, idioms; creative expressions in general cannot be replicated by a machine. I have yet to see a translation technology that can effectively mimic what a human can naturally do.

But Google’s latest premiere of its newest A.I assistant technology called Google Duplex just continues to prove many people wrong on the gap between technology and human behavior. Google Duplex proved the capability to decode imperfect human speech and schedule appointments in a pitch perfect human-like voice with all the umms and eehs. It won’t be long until a similar technology to Google Duplex might spillover to language translation.

Working with translation technologies to meet the demands of the 21st Century for translation services

Translation technologies have indeed proven to be significantly disruptive within a decade. But should we exclusively see them as threats as they appear to be? This reminds of me of late 2000’s and early 2010’s. It was a definitive point in time that determined which companies would prosper and fail. Those that were adamant in not adapting to evolving ways we consume media and digital content got the shorter end of the stick.

I took this as a lesson very seriously. Yes, we couldn’t forget our focus on human translators. But did we have to disconnect ourselves from the latest methods to render human translation services? So instead of alienating the translation technologies, many of us in the translation industry, including myself sought it best to claim translation technologies as assets than liabilities.

Many translation agencies and language service providers employ the latest translation tools to augment their translators’ productivity. Since the demand for language services from diverse global industries is rising enormously,  it’s only natural for LSPs in general to look for the most efficient ways to render translation services faster and to meet demand.

As of now, the latest self-learning translation software is mostly efficient and capable in producing technical texts and general queries. But this is enough to service to demands of many industries that need technical document translation services and businesses that provide multilingual support and are adopting multilingual marketing strategies.

The 21st century couldn’t be a better time to be a player in the translation industry. Not all translation technologies are disruptive. The introduction of VoIP platforms such as Skype along with emails in the market brought translation services to the digital era. But is cloud-based software is what brought the translation industry to a whole new level. Everyone from translators and interpreters to the language service providers could fully digitize translation services in faster and efficient ways never before imagined.

Newer services in the translation industry will emerge

The latest translation technologies usually take the limelight and all the fanfare. But there should also be hoopla the rise of newer and more diverse services in the translation industry.  For example, localization services was only really took off in the late 80s and 90s. But it didn’t take a look for it to become a widely adopted industry standard. Now, every global industry rely on both translation and localization services to effectively resonate well with their target market/audience.

Localization then evolved to accommodate the emergence of content sharing platforms and social media. Since the digital audience is predominantly multilingual, it only took a short while before multilingual content translation and localization became the next translation industry trend. But then again, within just a few years, video translation was the next big thing.

Services such as audio transcription, subtitling, and closed-caption translation is now being requested all over the world from major film production companies, streaming services, and small-time content creators. As to what’s coming next is anyone’s guess. I myself am not a soothsayer and I would have failed miserably if I made a career out of predicting the future.

Translation technologies will help us fulfil social responsibilities

A probable trend that I can see is that the possibilities with innovative language technologies means translation agencies will be able to provide more support and render more translation services for low-resource languages. To name a few, these include Gaelic, Irish, Romanian, etc. These languages are classified as low-resource languages because they don’t enjoy the same support and data as with high-resource languages such as English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, etc.

Also, there isn’t a lot of demand for these languages and that’s reflected by their relatively small number of speakers. It’s only natural that English, Spanish, and Chinese are high-resource languages because of their enormous amount of speakers high demand for translation services.

I can easily find a Spanish translator, but Gaelic translators are hard to come by. In the future, that might change but not necessarily hiring more Gaeilic translators. By working with new and improved CAT tools of the future, a single Gaelic translator do more translation work on their own effectively. I can’t get into the nitty gritty details as well I want to but this informative resource by Microsoft on how they can translate low-resource languages with the latest NMT technology can explain it for me.

In short, low-resource language translators can meet more demand and also, keep the language alive. This brings us to the greater role us in the translation industry are without a doubt a part of.

Language is the product of human interaction and cultural evolution. We see it as a tragedy every time one language or even a dialect dies off or is quickly becoming extinct. By combining the best of both worlds in human translation and language technologies, a joint effort of language service providers and research institutions are more than capable of saving endangered languages from extinction.


Embracing Change as a Translation Agency: Final Takeaway

As I said earlier, I’m not that good in predicting the future. Me, along with many others, merely adjust to it and look for opportunities we can benefit from, as long as it coincides with our goal of providing the best translation services we can at a reasonable price. In the end, translation will always remain relevant to our society as it was thousands of years ago. We all have to compromise and adapt to whatever innovations are in store now and in the future.

But if there’s one thing that we can all remain consistent is our commitment stellar customer service. The methods will always change but the belief in consistent and quality customer service will always remain the same. We evolve the same way how technologies and languages continue to evolve day by day.

Language is an inherently human construct and while AI translation is making some forms of translation redundant, it will still maintain its human essence in the decades to come. After all, we rely on translation services to talk to humans, not other machines. People will still demand in preserving the human essence in translation. But realistically speaking, who knows?

Trends come and ago. Consumer behaviors change all the time. Perhaps translation technologies in the future will come so far to the point that they can completely mimic the nuances and imperfections of human speech. And people might entirely change their perception towards human translation and don’t mind it being done exclusively by machine of some sort.

Ultimately, my guess is as good as yours and everyone else’s. It might seem a lot of pressure on my part and everyone else in the translation industry, especially for translators and interpreters. We don’t know what’s the next big thing coming. But in a way, that’s the exciting part.

We’re always compelled to innovate, improve our skills, and to adjust to the market’s latest trends and demands. So what’s supposed to be disrupting us is also the one that’s helping us stay relevant and competitive. The world works in mysterious ways I guess.