Tech is removing language barriers – but will jobs be lost in translation?

Sep 19, 2014 by

Could Microsoft’s Star Trek-inspired translation service ever replace professional human translation?

Swansea’s councillors must be painfully aware of the dangers of technology in the translation industry. When a translator’s email reply landed in their inbox in 2008, the Welsh sentences were duly printed on a road sign. It read: “I am not in the office at the moment.”

But recent advances in technology are now helping to break down language barriers and revolutionise the role of traditional translators.

When Google Translate was launched in 2006, basing translations on hundreds of millions of online texts, it raised a crucial question for the industry: will technology take over? Now, as Microsoft prepares to unveil its Star Trek translator – a Skype service that promises to understand spoken words and translate them into another language, speaking them back in real time – that question seems more relevant than ever.

Pre-launch demonstrations of the app have been impressive, making only a handful of mistakes.

 But the hype surrounding new technology does not mean computers have all the answers, according to Andy Way, associate professor of computing at Dublin City University. “You’re more likely to have everything else in Star Trek before you ever get a universal translator,” he says. Although enhanced technology is changing our approach to translation, the traditional translation industry is safe for now, he adds.

Experts divide translation technology in two distinct categories: machine translation (MT) which relies solely on software, and computer-assisted translation (CAT) which is simply used as an aid for translators. And although both are developing rapidly, translators say that only the CAT method produces high quality results.

Nataly Kelly, author of Found In Translation, explains: “Professional translators take great care to ensure that the message resonates with a foreign audience as the original author intended it to. Machines still lack the ability to do this. A machine doesn’t have a sense of humour, or the ability to choose the perfect words for a target audience.”

Professor Philipp Koehn, chair of the machine translation school of informatics at the University of Edinburgh agrees: “Automatic spoken translation is a particular problem because you’re working with two imperfect technologies tied together – speech recognition and translation.”

via Tech is removing language barriers – but will jobs be lost in translation? | Education |

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