Machine Translation: an honest perspective

We live in a time where technology advancements happen on a daily basis and slowly but steadily, most aspects of our lives, are being assimilated within the digital world. But what about translations? Is this industry following similar development trends in terms of advancements?

In a world of technology…

Machine translation stays at the forefront of our digital revolution. An outsider might expect that by now, that computers should be able to handle a slightly more complex translation, it’s 2018 after all, right? Wrong. While Google Translate brought machine translation into the mainstream more than 10 years ago, the technology first arose at the beginning of the cold war, in the 50’s.
It’s been a long time since then and it might take equally long until computers will be able to meet the expectations of the 20th century visionaries. Language is a very “human” thing and given that we are yet to fully understand how our brains work, it might be a bit of a stretch to assume that a machine could understand and mimic our way of processing verbal and written speech.

Despite its downsides, the current technology must not be underestimated. After all, MT is a multi-billion dollar industry which is constantly growing. Currently, MT works fairly well with scientific and technical translations but anything more complex becomes a bit of a mess, as the meaning of words and phrases are lost in a sea of ones and zeros. Still, MT is widely used all over the internet with websites like Facebook and Twitter using it to break the cultural barriers and connect their users with people and pages from the other side of the world. Text to speech or vice versa is another big aspect of the MT industry with giants like Google investing quite a bit in their bid to introduce such applications to the Android phone market.

Overall, the world is making quite some progress in making multilingual content accessible for everyone but it is fair to say that these are still baby steps. The same question remains: “When will computers replace human translators?” Realistically speaking, translators should not worry about their job security anytime soon, and arguably, never.

All things considered, it is interesting to take a look at how MT influences the translation industry as a whole.
Is investing in a MT worth it?
Do its advantages out weight the disadvantages?
The following paragraphs will elaborate on this topic.

Machine Translation

Currently, it can be argued that time is the biggest resource which is saved by MT engines. Given that the source text is technical enough, translating the document through a software and then editing it might save you quite some time. Pair this up with a massive translation memory to ensure consistency with previous projects and you could have your text translated in no time. Moreover, price can be another important advantage. While a MT software might be quite expensive at first, it can prove a good investment in the long run. A long running project can be aided by this technology as machine translation could not only ensure term consistency but it could exponentially reduce costs as it slowly but steadily “learns” how to improve the translation for a particular domain and for specific client needs. In contrast, this can also be an important downside: for an MT to actually be worth its price there is a need for constant work flow coming its way. Unless you have a client sending you massive documentation as part of a highly specialized project, it can be argued that a MT is not worth the investment. Especially if we are talking about translation agencies dealing with various types of projects from all kinds of domains.

Going back to the positives, the ability to memorize and re-use key terms and phrases is a very useful one, as it guarantees the consistency of all translations in the same project, regardless of the time span. This is especially true for website translations, allowing people to search for easily translatable web content when they navigate pages written in a different language.
This might actually be the best current overall feature of MTs: they help people understand each other, although they don’t speak the same language. But when it comes to professional translations where everything must be pin-point accurate, MTs can be merely an aid. Nothing of yet could replace human creativity and the relativistic way we construct thoughts and ideas.
As language is often just a mean to express feelings which go beyond the concrete, translations could be considered a form of art. And it is well known, that, even the most advanced artificial intelligence can barely grasp what art means to the human brain.
The human intervention is all but necessary in this industry. Therefore, before jumping on the hype train created by the big companies, it is important to understand one’s own translation needs.
Are you more of a technical translation company who receives the same type of project on a regular basis? If the answer is yes then MTs might be a good future investment. Otherwise, companies which deal with various projects and base their translations on a dynamic and creative way of looking at things should not be tempted just yet to pursue the use of such technology.

This would be a sum up of both the advantages and disadvantages of machine translation. The discussion about MT could carry on to the realms of philosophy but the concrete conclusions must follow as translation agencies seek clear results: MTs allow for a quick translation of content at a low cost, but they are not suitable for all of your business needs. For the more complex ones, always consider working with a professional translation company who has the expertise, experience and know-how to help you grow on the foreign markets.

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