How will artificial intelligence impact translation?

At the 21st International Federation of Translators World Congress in Brisbane from 3-5 August 2017 there was a lot of talk about neural machine translation and artificial intelligence (AI) and what kind of threat this presented to translators and interpreters. Overall, the message that came through was to embrace technology to improve productivity and accuracy and to rest assured that more data won’t necessarily deal with the complexity of communication and layers of language such as syntax, semantics and pragmatics.

What is all this talk about AI?

Good question. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. A couple of words of AI jargon that you’ll probably start hearing more frequently…

AI complete: the most difficult problems are informally known as AI-complete or AI-hard, implying that the difficulty of these computational problems is equivalent to that of solving the central artificial intelligence problem—making computers as intelligent as people, or strong.

Singularity: the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth.

So translation is still currently considered AI complete.

If you are interested in the impact of AI on all professions in general (especially legal and medical) I recommend the AI Race produced by the ABC.

What about advances in technology?

It is true that despite the technological advances and more contextually sensitive machine translation machine translation still produces unacceptably poor quality content, especially companies and brands that set a very high bar for their content and brand voice. The continuing improvements to machine translation will however have an impact of the role of humans in the translation process.

We need to emphasise the work of the human brain or as it can also be referred to, wetware (human brain cells or thought processes regarded as analogous to, or in contrast with, computer systems). Wetware is the source of contextual understanding, flow and style that a machine cannot produce to the same extent. It is capable of the creativity, understanding, and personality that make for truly effective translation, localisation or transcreation.

Also, don’t forget that there are still languages that google translate doesn’t understand and if you want to be assured that there is significant disparity between hype and reality, just take a look at the nonsensical results of Google Translate Sings (e.g. “Hello” by Adele),

Artificial intelligence and translation

Challenging change

Embrace change as a challenge not a threat and protect your stress levels and your health.

The end of the financial year is upon us once again and when you look back you can probably identify some things that have stayed the same since last year but also many changes. You have probably experienced more change than you think, from software upgrades on your computer or phone, to working with new clients or even changing business models. Change is the only constant in our world so we also need to manage it in a positive way. In terms of translation, from both a client and translator perspective, translation needs are also constantly changing. A business report may need to be translated for shareholders in another country with an emphasis on accuracy whereas a PowerPoint presentation may need to be adapted and localised to train staff in another country with different cultural norms, or perhaps a complete translation of another document is not necessary when it is just the gist of what the content is that is required. All these kinds of things keep translators on their toes and having to ask the right questions of clients.

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Vocabulary in French English translation

Terminology research – FranceTerme

As a translator there are many ways to research and improve translation vocabulary. The internet is a valuable tool, however you need to know where to look. I recently discovered another source of new vocabulary for those wanting to express themselves in “proper French” without using any kind of improper “Franglais” or an English calque of a particular word. The different vocabularies together words and phrases recommended by the General Commission of Terminology and Neology are regularly published in the Official Journal of the French Republic in the context of the program for the enrichment of the French language.

The commission’s objective is to enrich the French language to facilitate understanding of concepts sometimes poorly understood by the public and recommend contexts for their use.

All vocabulary published in the Official Journal terms can be found on the site FranceTerme: http://www.culture.fr/Ressources/FranceTerme/Librairie

Why is it useful?

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Risk in translation

Risk in translation

I am a translator. I translate texts from one language to another. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

But to get from one language to another, or from source text (ST) to target text (TT), requires a translator to go through a process. Firstly, this involves the translator making a number of choices about how to interpret the ST. Secondly, it requires the translator to use resources and to apply technical skills in order to thirdly, re-express the message in the TT. From this description, we can conclude therefore that translation is a decision making process. Any kind of process has inherent risk. The Business Dictionary defines inherent risk as “The probability of loss arising out of circumstances or existing in an environment, in the absence of any action to control or modify the circumstances.” In translation, we could say that risk equates to the possibility of not fulfilling the translation’s purpose as proposed by translation theorist Anthony Pym in his 2010 paper Text and risk in translation. I think that this is only a partial view of what we could consider as risk in translation.

Within the decision making process of translation, I see three sets of risks to be managed and minimised. Text, technology and trade risks.

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Translating happiness

Today, March 20, is the UN International Day of Happiness. I don’t know about you but I have always thought of happiness as a relatively abstract concept, but as an individual one.  I acknowledge that its synonyms – contentment, satisfaction, jollity (seriously we don’t use this word enough!) or enjoyment – are easily understandable. As I did some reading, however, I began to wonder about the UN definition of gross global happiness. Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General stated that the world

“needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development, social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness”.

I’m all for measuring gross domestic product but gross global happiness…is this a step too far? As a translator, I’m happy when I’m translating because it makes me happy that I can gift someone with the possibility of reading a text in their own language. As Mandela so eloquently said,

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”.

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