Machine translation vs human translation: A competition or complementary game

Article written by Nertila Konda

There are arguably few industries as old as translation that have undergone such a radical transformation in such a short period of time. This giant leap has not only given translators new (and indisputably better) tools to earn their living, but it has also fundamentally changed our standpoint about the role of translators, communication and even language itself.

The pros of technology are numerous, with instant analyzing of large amounts of data, automatic retrieval of pre-existing translations and consulting previously unavailable resources being only a few examples of the advantages it offers. With the help of technology translators are now able to outsource their memories to hard drives, instead of being confined to the unreliable human brain. It has also made it possible for their knowledge to be stored in the cloud, which allows instant consulting, checking against and sharing in a few clicks. Reliability, consistency, speed – things the mind often finds itself short of – are made up for by translation tools.

Many big advents, such as the launch of Skype Translator 2015, wearable devices for remote and language sign interpretation and of course the development of NMT (neural machine translation) and AI, have undoubtedly been exciting news of a new era in global communication, but have also planted some seeds of fear of machines outperforming, or potentially replacing, humans in the language industry.

But I believe the truth is quite more complex than that. While it has become clear that AI has gained strength in many businesses by automating the repetitive, time-consuming tasks, it is not yet capable of the precision, understanding of context, attention to register, creativity and awareness of the ever-changing nature and personality of each language, all of which are essential features of a truly effective translation. Machine translation may as well have taken on the “heavy-lifting” part of the translation work, but it’ll be many years before we see perfect machine translation come into existence.

Furthermore, the career outlook for language professionals looks brighter than ever. Translation and Interpretation is one of the top five fastest-growing industries, CareerBuilder study shows.

In conclusion, it is more than a fair bet that machine translation is here to stay. The way I see it, you either embrace technology or you get left behind. So, instead of considering technology as a tyrant, language professionals should roll out the red carpet for it, since playing alongside CAT tools the demand for their services is only expected to increase.

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