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  • Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Human Translations?

    As technology continues to advance at a breakneck speed all around us, we are starting to see businesses and industries shift and change to accommodate these new technologies. Automation and AI are a big part of this shift and are becoming an ever-larger part of our everyday lives. We see this most obviously in the rudimentary forms of artificial intelligence becoming a fixture on our smartphones.


    People look at this technological advancement and the tasks AI can currently help with and logically assume that if technology continues at its current pace, many professions, including translation, may quickly become obsolete.


    The concept of using machines to help with translations goes back as far as the first half of the 20th century, and the idea existed in science fiction at least a century before that. In fact, the famous C-3PO from Star Wars was more or less a translation robot.


    However, the idea that machines can replace translators is based on a lack of understanding of what a translator actually does and the skills that the task entails. In this article, we want to briefly break down why translators are not going to be replaced by machines for official translation services anytime soon.



    3 Reasons Why Technology Will Not Replace a Translator

    While the concept of a translation, taking content from one language and putting it into another language, is simple, it is anything like that in practice. Depending on the purpose and goal of a translation, there can be a considerable number of concerns and factors that may play a role in how the final translation is created.


    Official translation services for legal purposes will look a lot different than translations created for marketing or entertainment reasons. The word choice, tone, and creative flair needed by the translator will change depending on the purpose of a translation.


    The room for error when crossing a language barrier is great for many industries, and a very specialized approach may need to be taken. 


    The best way to explain how the complexity of translation poses several problems for an AI is to give you a few solid examples:



    1.    Accuracy and Accountability


    Google, Microsoft, and other major tech companies have put millions, if not billions, into creating sophisticated machine learning systems. Their translation apps have a high level of accuracy for several languages (often in the high 90% area). This accuracy and ease of use make the mobile apps put out by these companies fantastic for casual conversations, and they have done a great job bringing our world closer together. However, many overestimate the ability of these apps in the long run.


    In the medical field, even the slightest mistake in word choice can have devastating effects on the life of another. There have been some very famous cases where hospitals have made disastrous miscalculations based on mistranslations. The simple fact is that even a machine being incorrect by the smallest percentage poses an unacceptable risk.


    While humans commonly make mistakes, moral and legal liability are much different.


    For the foreseeable future, AI translators will simply not be accurate enough to take on the more sensitive tasks, and there will likely be considerable pushback against the idea of them ever fully taking over such roles. "But won't machines eventually be 100% accurate?" you may ask. It is also worth noting that AI machines will likely never be 100% accurate for the reasons we are about to get into:



    2.    Language Changes, Evolves, and Is Often Subjective


    Artificial Intelligence thrives in tasks and concepts that are objective and based on a black and white world; however, language is full of nuance and is constantly evolving along with culture. These days, we see new words enter our everyday lives faster than ever. Understanding language to the extent needed for personal interaction (like those required for sales or marketing) will require someone with a nuanced understanding of the language who can understand it just as well as the recipients. For the time being, machines are simply unable to grasp the nuances of conversation and cannot provide the personal touch needed for many forms of human interaction. This leads us nicely into our next point:


    3.    Machines Have Trouble Being Funny


    Transcreation is the concept of a translator needing to change or create some aspect of a translation to convey the document's original meaning properly. For example, if the original document was to have a metaphor or joke that doesn't make sense in the other language, a skilled translator will use "transcreation" to fix this issue. This often means they will replace what was said with a similar phrase in the new language that has much the same meaning.


    Without the innuendo, humor, sarcasm, and other devices we use throughout our language (the very human aspects of language), our interaction becomes much more stunted and expressionless. The tone, word choice, and the overall flow of a statement can all play a significant role in how the final product is understood, and it requires a skilled language expert to balance these factors correctly.



    Will Machine Learning Change the Translation Industry?

    Automatic translations will likely continue to grow in importance and use and may even find their place in helping facilitate some official translation services, however as this article should have demonstrated, we need to temper our expectations to reality. While machine learning translations are promising, it will be many years before we see the kind of advancements that signal the end for human translators.


    For now, machines help us travel, make connections, and better understand the broader world around us. Though you may not be using AI for official translation services anytime soon, it is a truly remarkable technology that is making our world a better, more intertwined place.


    Do You Need a Translator?

    At The Spanish Group, we specialize in providing official translation services for a wide variety of needs in over ninety languages! We serve a broad series of complex industries ranging from medical to legal and immigration services. All of this is backed by the best price guarantees and expedited services that allow you to get an official translation in as little as twenty-four hours. Call today and let The Spanish Group open the world up to you.