As humans, we are continually striving to use technology to make our lives better. The next tremendous technological advancement will be powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Already, AI is disrupting industries and professions. The translation is ground zero for the disruptive and the innovative uses of AI.
The primary question on everyone’s mind is, “Will AI replace human translators?” However, this is the wrong question to ask. It’s more useful to understand how AI is already being used in the translation industry and how humans can adapt to technology to become better translators.
How Translation AI Applications Work
AI translation is already common on social media and with free tools like Google translate. Almost anyone who uses the internet has some experience with AI translation tools.
The way these tools work is they compile a massive amount of data and rely on common relationships between words and phrases across different languages. AI treats translation as a giant math puzzle. Using deep learning, AI translation tools do more than look for a one-to-one correspondence between words.
Instead, these tools try and map relationships between words in one language to phrases in the target language.
Compared to what existed before, the results are impressive. AI translation tools are more than just digital dictionaries. However, if you need a polished translation, AI is still no match for a human translator.
Even beginning students of a language can tell that the results generated by AI translators are often awkward and lack the smooth construction of a native speaker.
AI is Here to Stay
You cannot put the genie back in the bottle. AI is here to stay. People will continue to use AI translation tools to help them navigate in foreign countries, to communicate with people around the world, and to help with homework.
AI translation tools will also get better. As the algorithms collect more data and get more feedback from human users, the results will get better.
Future of AI and Translation
Is it possible that in the future, AI translation will work as seamlessly as the Universal Translator in the Star Trek science-fiction universe? It’s possible, but such an advancement is not going to happen in our lifetimes.
Part of the issue is that human brains are more complex than even the most powerful supercomputers. Another issue is that language is often about context, idioms, and allusions. It’s impossible to truly learn a language by swallowing a dictionary and a grammar rule book. You need to understand the culture of different peoples to be a proficient translator.
In the future, AI translation tools will become easier to use and more accurate. They will make basic, monotonous translation tasks more efficient.
However, they will not replace human translators. Human translators will still be needed to communicate the nuance of a witness’s testimony in court or the intricacies of a legal document. Only human translators will be able to do a work of literature justice in a new language.
The Relationship Between AI and Human Translators
The truth is as AI gets better, it will replace some low-level translators. It will get good enough to give a rough translation that can be understood. But, most companies, institutions, and people need something beyond “good enough”.
Professional human translators will benefit from advances in AI translation technology. Humans will be able to use the technology to perform the more labor-intensive parts of the job. AI will make human translators more efficient.
However, humans will still be needed to make sure the context and nuance are carried from the original language to the translation. Languages are living things, and translators are more than mere technicians.
A great translator is an artist. They know that communicating a meaning across languages also requires building a bridge between two different cultures. Subtle word choices can make all the difference in a text.
Professional translators should not fear AI. Instead, they should embrace it as a tool of the trade.
Just as any skilled translator has a handful of dictionaries, soon the best translators will be outsourcing the tedious parts of their job to incredibly powerful AI tools, freeing them up to polish the final translation so it sounds or reads as perfect in the new tongue as it does in the original.