We live in an interesting period that is characterized by rapid technological advancements. There is no doubt about this. The invention of computers and other related technological devices has undoubtedly revolutionized how people work and live. Work and social life are two areas of life that keep on changing. Consider how the widespread availability of smart devices such as smartphones has enabled people to work from the comfort of their homes and communicate with others who may even be thousands of miles away. So far, rapid advancements in technology have brought good tidings to translation compagnies, introducing digital dictionaries, CAT devices, and other productivity-enhancing tools. Additionally, the advancements have made long-distance networking as well as remote working faster, easier and cheaper.
Technology vs Human Workers
However, technological experts all agree that we have not seen anything yet, and those translation companies should prepare for even greater technological revolution. Researchers of machine learning are about to make a significant breakthrough. In the next few years, technology may render thousands of human translators jobless. To satisfactorily complete a project, a human translator usually needs several minutes, hours or even days, depending on the complexity of the job and many other factors. On the other hand, computer software can complete the same job within a few seconds. This has triggered anxiety in CEOs and owners of thousands of translation companies spread across the world, and understandably so.
However, our forefathers went through this. Therefore, this is not happening for the first time. With advancement in technology, there must be winners and losers. Remember what happened during the Industrial Revolution. For instance, the Luddites staged protests against the increased application of technology to minimize labor costs in the labor-intensive textile industry. This is because they feared technology would render most of them jobless. Consequently, they razed down several textile mills, leading to massive destruction of property.
This does not mean that translation companies should stage similar protests against developers of machine learning software. However, it is something that we should all get concerned about. Should human translators worry about looming job losses? Do they have genuine concerns?
The efficiency of machine translators
To get a good perspective, it is important to look at the current state of affairs of machine translation. Essentially, it is still at the experimental stage, regardless of all the hype. Additionally, many translation companies are yet to find machine translation useful. In other words, it has been largely useless. Granted, there are thousands of both offline and online translation software that people can make use of. There are many others that can be bought for just a few dollars. However, even the most expensive and praised software often produces an awkward and mediocre translation. In some cases, people who try to translate files from one language to another get misleading and even wrong information.
Several translation companies have conducted experiments- using computer software to translate files- but the results have been very disappointing. Essentially, the experiments involved allowing computers to translate documents, then asking professionals to go through them and make corrections where necessary. However, the professional translators discovered that the job was extremely difficult and that it was no different from translating the documents from scratch.
This is because the approach followed by computer-based translation systems is completely different from how professional human translators go about their jobs. Machine translation systems make use of either an experience-based approach or rules-based technique.
Even though many organizations that need translation services would opt to leverage on technology so as to minimize costs, it may not be a wise decision. Instead, organizations ought to employ professional translators on a full-time basis or outsource the work to translation companies. Professional translators make use of sophisticated hardware and software, and can, therefore, offer exceptional services.
Will the adoption of modern technology render professional human translators jobless in the near future? Will it force translation companies to restructure their businesses and probably go back to their respective drawing boards? What will happen in the translation industry in the next ten, thirty or fifty years?
Professional human translators indeed have reasons to worry. This is because organizations that need translation services will opt to make optimal use of technology so as to minimize operational costs. As a result, they will only employ a few people since most of the translation work will be done by computers. Other organizations will opt to outsource work to translation companies with a similar objective of minimizing operational costs. Companies that provide translation services should, therefore, prepare for more business opportunities. Such companies will take advantage of technology to source for clients based in different parts of the world, and in turn hire freelance translators from anywhere- North America, Africa, Asia, South America or Europe.