Machine interpretation?

In  last month’s issue of  The Economist the article “Conquering Babel”  states that companies like Microsoft and MTT DOCOMO ( A Japanese mobile communications company) are now perfecting voice recognition software to translate speech and act as an interpreter in a conversation.  Although these  technologies have been around for some time; the interpreter facet of them has not. By using speech recognition it “translates” speech  and  with the use of headsets,  the other person would listen in. (This particular software is to translate phone calls) They all normally work in the consecutive mode, specifically question and answer and according to the article, the speakers have to speak slowly so as to capture and translate accurately.

The article continues that of these two companies, Microsoft seems to have an edge on this technology. In October, one Microsoft executive was able to use this technology to do a simultaneous interpretation  of  an entire conference in China by  speaking into the device and projecting the output not only verbally but onscreen using text. Well, judging by Monday’s  State of the Union Response ( video below) from Senator Marco Rubio  I beg to differ. Although the video is in Spanish, the translation to his speech appears in the bottom with a wonderful disclaimer that “This text may not be 100% accurate” Really?  (ABC’s version of the video). Furthermore, his speech  had  been written  prior to  the President’s speech (and judging by the transcribed version quite unrelated to Rubio’s speech itself and  the translated transcript, which used this voice recognition software, does not follow the material spoken but is nothing more than  incomprehensible  text. Therefore I do find it hard to believe that it will ever be a substitute for a human interpreter. The same way that I believe (as I have written in the past) that machine translation will never substitute a translator.  So here is the video and judge for yourself.

Machine Translation Will Not Replace A Specialized Translator

Hello, it has been a few days but with the Thanksgiving holiday and other commitments I was unable to write. I see that my last post is still generating traffic so I don’t want to lose momentum. These last few days I have been reading about Facebook’s translation tool through the search engine Bing and by all accounts has fallen flat in its results. This led me to write about machine translation and if it ever will replace human translation. I know that there have been many discussions on this subject but it continues to generate a buzz. Every time we mention this topic most of us grow concerned about the future of our profession and how it has hindered our position in the market. Although there have been shifts in it, there is still in my viewpoint, ways to go before machine translation can be perfected. It is true that more and more companies, agencies and other businesses are resorting to MT to reduce costs; the results of these translations are less than desirable and still need human editing. This is exactly the point of this essay. If they are to be “edited” or most of the time redone from scratch, are we then truly replaceable?

So far that has not been the case. Although we as translators have learned to use this technology as a tool it is not a replacement for our ability. I do believe that if a translation is done right, the gist, the analysis, and thought process that goes into it cannot possibly be done by a machine. Also, translation for me is somewhat of an art (we are writers after all) how you phrase, analyze and use your words are uniquely to you. For example, you may have two translations of the same text side by side, both correct and true to the original but both with their own unique style. This is what is absent in machine translated text and although it gets edited by a translator, the gist of it gets lost in the process. It is true that a machine can spit out a translation in billionths of a second and for us this would take a bit longer to produce, yet it is the end result that counts.

Given that machine translation is here and improvements to its software get more perfected, there are still fields which could never replace a specialized translator; those are law, literature, medical and marketing. These are highly specialized fields with very precise language and in literary work and marketing there is still a creative, analytical and interpretation component to the writing that is no match for a Google Translate or Yahoo Babel Fish. Actually, the more you specialize within these fields the more in demand you become. Conversely, the more generalized your specialty the more of an “editor” you are likely to become too. That is how you position yourself to become more marketable.

Finally, I would like to add from my personal experience so far, directing my service to clients rather than agencies has been of course of greater value. I use machine translation as a tool. It just won’t replace me.